If there's been one guarantee in my life, it's that my parents will always come to me with questions about how to use their new cell phones. Mom and Dad can speak at great lengths to the wonders that a new, widescreen, face-recognizing, voice-activating, high-pixel-counting camera and 5G-enabled phone promises to bestow upon them. But then comes the big smile and the low-whispered words: "Can you help me do it?"
This very same scenario is present in everyday digital transformation projects, in which large-scale enterprises are aware of "what dreams may come" with new technology adoption and the evolution of their existing technology platforms even as fundamental questions remain about how it's all actually going to work. That's because, just as it is with my parents, the excitement of adopting new technology is fueled by promise—of doing more, in simple terms; or, more grandly, of exponential future possibility in which the user is able to transcend business as usual and deliver themselves to a new frontier.
Helping my parents use technology in a way that is both enabling and empowering has been a learning experience for me, as well. Leading them to the digital horizon in ways that help grow their confidence, being their trusted advisor, has allowed me to develop a three-step process—call it "The Parent Test"—for understanding where an organization is on its digital journey and how to help them transform through any piece of new technology.
It comes down to a sort of digital transformation checklist that helps frame up what needs to be done, works through the actual requirements of change, and does its best to overcome nervous giggles and missteps.
1. Let them talk
Digital challenge requests should be understood, but not necessarily obeyed. Educating "Mom and Dad" on more than the "How" of adopting new tech is essential, but it doesn't have to be in one massive download of all your years and adept capability through one stream of consciousness. Take your time and listen to what your stakeholders say they need and the challenges they are currently experiencing. You may find, as they explain what they think needs to be done, that the true objective and goals come forward, opening the door to real digital growth and empowering them to move forward with a deeper understanding of the "Why" they want to take the technological next step and "What" it will do for them in the long run.
2. Get specific about the challenge, not the desired outcome
How many times have you heard your parents say the equivalent of "I just want it to do the thing!" as they flail around at a new cellphone's touchscreen like they're wearing the thickest of mittens? As fun as this image might be for you to imagine of your own parents, remember that underlying it is an ultimately frustrating experience: they know they want something to work, and that it is supposed to, but they just don't know how to do it. What's important in these situations is to avoid talking about generic future states, especially when it was marketing or other jargon that helped get the technology in their hands in the first place. Instead, work to rein in their frustration in order to help them succeed. Getting to the root of any digital need comes from asking specific questions about what your stakeholders are looking to accomplish with the new technical capability.
3. Keep the focus on concrete steps to success
I can't tell you how often I've heard my parents say, "Small steps over time win the race." And it doesn't matter because, bottom line in my experience, they were right pretty much every time. In the case of digital transformation, you must always prepare a walkthrough, a step-by-step guide that allows your stakeholders to see the path ahead. To fully realize the promise of new capability, new accessibility and cool new features takes a calculated route and a measured pace. Clear "baby steps" are the best way to ensure that very big digital concepts can be understood in practice by the end user as they navigate and adapt to the change.
Patience leads—and wins
We should approach working with our stakeholders the same way we help our respective Moms and Dads adopt new technology in their everyday lives: with patience. The rate at which the digital landscape is changing can be frightening, but a trusted advisor with a steady hand can be one of the most critical elements in a successful digital transformation. Keeping "The Parent Test" in mind is essential to really providing value and getting your stakeholders across the finish line.
Or put it this way: Talk less, listen more.