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August 20th, 2019

Why Engaging Your Detractors is Pivotal to Transforming Your Business

They’re inevitable. The lone holdout. The eye-rolling cynic.

They think they’ve seen it all before. They have to be dragged kicking and screaming into projects they consider questionable.

They are your detractors — and they are absolutely central to achieving your digital transformation goals. Why? Because they include some of your most valuable people. But you can’t afford to let their objections stall your progress.

Understanding the Crucial Role of Detractors

At DMI, we’ve made detractor outreach one of the pillars of VisionNEXT, our framework for helping organizations realize their dreams of digital transformation. We don’t underestimate the magnitude of a transformation initiative. Converting your company from a pipeline to a platform business model or using technology to disrupt your industry is a massive undertaking.

To succeed, you have to change the culture of your organization. And that requires changing the minds of your people while formulating a strategy to implement that change. VisionNEXT embraces this challenge, helping companies write a narrative explaining what they hope to achieve, why they hope to achieve it and how they plan to get it done.

The framework leans heavily on persuasion — using the language of logic, reason, ethics and emotion to create a unity of purpose among masses of people. Our reasoning: If your narrative wins over the detractors, you stand a much better chance of success.

We developed VisionNEXT to address one of today’s biggest challenges: Innovation happens so quickly that you must be able to adjust your programs on the fly. Otherwise, you can spend 18 months developing a program, only to have technologies or disruptive competitors make all your efforts obsolete.

You have to move at a rapid clip, using agile methodologies that rely on consensus and iteration to stay current. In an environment where three-year time frames have shrunk to six months, it makes no sense to let critics and naysayers spread doubts and gum up the works.

But it’s also useless to ignore their potential to be powerful contributors. Detractors usually have the know-how; you just have to shift their mindset. Outreach helps you do that.

Why Detractor Outreach is a Must

Detractors are one of three key audiences in DMI’s VisionNEXT narrative.

The other two audiences are the beneficiaries of the change you propose (customers, employees, etc.) and the natural advocates of change (executives, investors, etc.). It’s comparatively easy to frame a narrative that appeals to customers, who always want better products and services, and advocates, who want their company to be on the leading edge of economic trends.

Detractors are another matter. They are independent thinkers who don’t play get-along, go-along. They might be some of your smartest, most skilled employees. Their knowledge and abilities can make them incredibly influential. Their doubts can infect your whole program.

The conventional wisdom is to ignore the naysayers and move ahead with your program. If they don’t like it, that’s their problem.

The trouble is, rapid-fire change makes their problem your problem. You need all the skill you can muster. If some of your best people can’t get with the program, ignoring them is out of the question.

You have to engage them.

What Detractor Engagement Looks Like

In practice, VisionNEXT is a series of workshops that help companies develop an in-depth action plan for digital transformation projects. The first half of the framework builds a narrative for change, while the second half formulates a strategy to implement it.

In one recent VisionNEXT workshop, we had a person who did not want to be there. The cynic wasn’t some grumbling underling — but a corporate VP who had orders from on high to see what we had to say. The expectations were low.

Four hours later, the skeptic had completely changed. This nay-sayer suddenly realized the need for transformation – in this case from manufacturing into a service business. That’s the potential of detractor engagement.

Addressing detractors is baked into VisionNEXT. Our framework encourages you to engage with detractors, seeking their input and giving them critical assignments that make full use of their critical-thinking skills.

You Need Everybody On Board

Most detractors won’t do a 180-degree turn like the VP in our recent workshop. Grudging acceptance might be the best you can hope for in some cases.

Nevertheless, you can persuade detractors to see the logic and reasoning driving your transformation initiative. If you involve them in the process and demonstrate that they are crucial to its success, you stand a far greater chance of them getting with the program. And there’s less risk of them raising objections or conducting whisper campaigns that grind progress to a halt.

Detractors have plenty to offer. You just have to position yourself to encourage their contributions.

–Michael Deittrick, senior vice president, digital strategy, chief digital officer

Tags: digital transformation enterprise VisionNEXT

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