The First Step on Your Digital Journey: Gathering Support from Leadership

leadership support for digital transformation

When we recently connected with Stan Askren, former chairman and CEO at HNI Corporation, he told us this: Every CEO he knows is focused on increasing probable growth through more volume, better pricing, and lower operating costs.

Digital transformation is one way to achieve this probable growth, but it’s important to get the C-suite on board with the concept of digitization and what it will allow you to do.

How can you earn the leadership validation and endorsement you need to move forward with digital transformation? During our conversation with Askren, we asked him this question. As a former CEO (and now a consultant to many CEOs), he shares key steps with us on how to get their buy-in when you sit down with them…

Talk About Current Status

First, Askren recommends identifying and talking to all the critical decision-makers (formal and informal) who may interact with your plant’s data: shop-floor leaders, subject-matter experts, IT, the VP of operations, etc. Discuss the current state of affairs for each individual, as well as the pros and cons of what they’re doing today (and the way they do it).

Understanding the business from every angle will help you paint an accurate picture when you talk to the C-suite about current status, the successes and breakdowns that are occurring, and how digital transformation may improve some of these processes.

As part of these discussions, create value stream maps: flowcharts that document every step in a process from start to finish while also quantifying the time and materials involved in each step. This process helps you identify areas that don’t add value or steps that slow things down (retooling, long wait times, etc.).

Think Through Potential Questions and Answers

Take time to consider every question that leadership will (or should) ask. Document the questions along with thorough answers: from knowing how you’ll replace parts to identifying who you’ll use for guidance and expertise as a technical partner. Take this information with you to your discussions and go through each question together.

In addition to making sure you’re prepared for the conversation, this step will also show the C-suite that you’ve thought about how to handle potential challenges and obstacles.

Demonstrate Current Processes

As part of your discussion with leadership, share the value stream maps you created. Walking through these visual representations of workflow can help them better “see” how things currently work – and understand why there may be opportunity for improvement by eliminating areas of waste.

Paint a Picture of the Future

Once you’ve shared your value stream maps, create new versions of these documents to share with the C-suite: ideal-state or future-state value stream maps.

Instead of demonstrating how things currently work within your plant, these maps represent your goals: how you want things to work in the future through digitization. What do you hope to be able to accomplish that isn’t possible yet?

In addition to demonstrating how you can improve flow without delays or obstacles, these forward-thinking maps also help gather consensus and ensure that everyone’s on the same page regarding changes.

Take a Few Road Trips

Talking through your ideal scenario is helpful, but seeing it in action can make it seem more realistic.

Conduct visioning trips with the leadership team to show them what’s possible through digital transformation. What are other companies doing successfully? What problems were they able to solve? Other manufacturers on this journey can show you how technology and automation work for them.

Simplify the Economics

It’s easy to walk into a room and start talking about how digital transformation can improve working conditions, quality, scheduling, delivery, safety, labor costs ... and the list goes on. But hearing about all that data at once might be overwhelming.

Instead, start by making the economic justification simple: Demonstrate how it will reduce overhead costs (the largest expense for most manufacturers) and improve the customer experience.

Be prepared with information about the other benefits, too, but lead with overhead and customer experience. They’re most like to capture the attention of the CEO and other leadership.

Remember: Digital transformation isn’t the objective. It’s a means to an end: a way to solve problems by lowering costs, saving time, improving the customer experience, etc.

If your organization isn’t on board with the concept of digital transformation after you walk through these actions, Askren advises taking a step back.

Pushing the initiative through without buy-in will be frustrating, take more time, and may lead to a negative outcome instead of a positive one. Hearing “no” doesn’t mean you can’t revisit the idea in the future; it just gives you more time to build a stronger case for next time.

If leadership supports your ideas, then the next step is determining how and where to begin – and Van Meter’s team of experts can help lead your journey to digital transformation.

Hear more from Stan on how you can gain buy-in during “A CEO’s Perspective on Digital Transformation” on demand below.


TRANSFORM – A Leadership Series Addressing the Challenges and Opportunity of Modern Manufacturing

This blog is based on insights shared during the first webinar in Van Meter’s virtual series called TRANSFORM. Running from Sept. 3 through Nov. 12, 2020, the series is focused on smart manufacturing and digital transformation. Every week, these webinars connect you with industry peers who share their digital-transformation experiences and the approaches they took to get there. Then sign up for future webinars or check out other on-demand recordings in our series here.

bruce hallahan van meter ARTICLE BY:


Hallahan has over 30 years in the industry, with 5 years spent as an employee of Van Meter.