How can you get the Board's buy-in for digital change?

Author: Dirk Hahn, COO and Group Strategic Director, Hays Germany

Did you know, according to McKinsey, only four percent of global 500 companies think that their board is ready for a digital change? This doesn’t bode well for you, given that you are about to present a business case to the board for a much needed technological investment within your business; whether it’s using machine learning to predict a customer’s future buying patterns, or Augmented Reality to provide your customers with a more realistic expectation of what your product or service will deliver.

You know that this digital change is necessary if you want your business to not just survive, but thrive in the context of pervasive digitalisation in your industry. But without the board’s buy-in, you can’t secure the budget and resource to make this change happen, and your vision risks dying a death here before you’ve even tried to get it off the ground.

Four percent. It’s a worrying figure. So if you think your C-suite might be part of that remaining 96 percent, then it’s vital that you take strategic steps when building your business case for your proposal, and factor in the below:

Explain that the customer always comes first
Your first priority when building your business case is to clarify how implementing this digital change will benefit your company’s most valuable asset – your customer base. It is fair to say that there is often a distance between the board and the customer, a distance filled in part by more customer facing teams; from Data Analytics, to Sales, to Customer Services.

But you can bridge this gap somewhat by gleaning some valuable customer feedback from these teams. This, you can do by shadowing said teams, holding feedback sessions with them, or working with them to gather some research based evidence of customer behaviour.

You should also highlight how and why not implementing this change will disengage your customers. What are other businesses doing, and are you at risk of losing your customers to more innovative competitors?

Ultimately, you need to make the customer a key part of your proposal – articulating the customer needs in a real way, in a way that means something to the board members, and importantly, the bottom line.

Demonstrate that digital change won’t be smooth sailing, and that’s ok
Perfectionism can often be the enemy of innovation. Some of your board members may be hesitant to give their buy-in for digital change, because rushing poses the risk of not implementing this digital change perfectly. Your role here is to reassure the board that you might not get it right straight away, and this is not something to be feared.

Highlight how businesses like yours are choosing to “fail fast”; that is, employ new technology readily and make corrections as they go along. Relay the positive results that these businesses are seeing, and how you can emulate and even better these results.

Don’t just reference success stories. You should also mention any examples of businesses which have had a “Kodak moment”, lagging behind as a result of being too slow to react to digitalisation in their industry. Bringing some best and worst case scenarios to the board should help tackle some of the risk averse attitudes during your pitch, and bring some urgency to the discussion.

Speak to them in a language they understand
Lastly, do not isolate the board with overly complex acronyms and jargon. This business case isn’t about you proving your technical expertise. It is about clearly and simply presenting the board with a problem which threatens their bottom line, and a solution which can boost it.

Speak in the language they understand, the language of targets, objectives, and the projected ROI should these targets be met – this, after all, is the language they are most fluent in.

Once your business case has been presented, it is important that you take away some key learnings from your experience. Think about what kind of resistance you were met with, from whom, and why.

How could you be quicker in getting the board’s buy-in for a digital change next time, acting before your competitors do? Because more often than not, it’s a battle between businesses as to who can get their board’s buy-in first.

Your ultimate goal should be to spearhead a more innovative company culture from hereon in, one which is led top-down from a fully aligned board who put their weight behind digital change. After all, this isn’t the first time digitalisation will disrupt your industry, and it certainly won’t be the last.

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