Is there a better way to digitally transform an organisation? At this year’s Gartner Symposium, three leading Australian organisations — Guide Dogs Victoria, eHealth Queensland and ANZ Bank — shared how they overcame diverse challenges to achieve successful digital transformation. And this was their unanimous secret to success: inclusion.

When crafting their digital strategies, the three organisations didn’t just consider standard business objectives and performance indicators, but also sought direct, in-depth feedback from their people and customers. This rendered their digital transformation strategies much more relevant to the people they serve — and much more achievable in the long run as a result.

When organisations make inclusion a primary consideration in their digital transformation goals and strategies, they significantly skew the odds of success in their favour. Here are some insights into how they can do so:

People-powered transformation

First, leaders should consider inverting their process for formulating digital strategy: replacing top-down hierarchical design with conversations that incorporate feedback at every organisational level. This involves asking questions about what people really need to do good work; where they struggle most in delivering results; and how they might enrich the communities in which they do business.

By listening to those on the ground and acting on their feedback, leaders can earn invaluable buy-in from their people to the digital transformation strategies that result from this bottom-up process. Not every level of the organisation may get what it wants — but the listening process itself creates the intense commitment and purpose required to digitally transform any organisation.

When eHealth Queensland embarked on self-digitisation, leaders started by approaching customers first: doctors, nurses and healthcare staff that would be most affected by an overhaul of time-consuming and inefficient healthcare processes. Doing so helped to identify the stress points — such as an influx of patient calls every Monday — that burdened the system and its healthcare professionals. This guided how the organisation deployed technologies like chatbots to filter calls and channel patients to the right doctors, allowing, as eHealth Queensland’s Michael Berndt, its chief customer experience officer, puts it, “our people to do the more important jobs they needed to do.”

Empowering changemakers

All three organisations share a belief in empowering their people, with the right digital tools and data, to create the right solutions. Admittedly, this isn’t an easy point for most organisations. Leaders must implicitly trust their people to effectively and autonomously use valuable resources to do good work. In more than one instance, that trust grew from small beginnings: empowering employees to lead small-scale change projects before graduating to more impactful initiatives. By equipping those employees with data and digital tools, organisations encourage them to not only accomplish meaningful transformations within their scope of influence, but also to collaborate with others to find solutions that the traditional C-suite might never think of.

For instance, ANZ Bank entrusted several of its working mothers to head up the Return to Work Program — an initiative to hire highly skilled professional individuals looking to transition back into work life after taking a career break to raise families or care for loved ones. Emboldened by support from ANZ’s leadership, the team of mothers created a programme that received 650 high-quality applications within 2 weeks.

This initiative brought promising new talent into the organisation, has inspired many to rewrite the book on hiring and “turned traditional recruitment on its head,” according to ANZ’s Carina Parisella. With the same data and tools, the bank’s staff have gone on to build out broader initiatives such as Spectrum Autism@Work, in collaboration with DXC’s Dandelion Programme, which encourages departments such as data modelling or cyber security to hire for neurodiversity not just as a matter of equal opportunity, but to gain alternate perspectives that give the bank a powerful strategic advantage.

Trusting people to lead

Finally, organisations would do well to remember that sustainable and beneficial change, digital or otherwise, depends on people first and foremost. The experience of the three organisations suggests that employees should be given freedom to explore and lead the use of new technologies, tools and methodologies — including assistance from beyond the organisation itself — in how they work. Greater autonomy typically results in more open communication focussed around achieving impactful results. That’s because the groups empowered by this autonomy often have their own, far deeper and more personal reasons for wanting digital transformation to succeed: giving them greater autonomy taps into these motivations in a way that top-down initiatives rarely do.

When Guide Dogs Victoria was awarded a grant to build a peer-to-peer online support platform for the visually impaired, the group’s leaders knew that they couldn’t rely on standard project management processes if they wanted to succeed. Instead, the organisation gave teams full freedom to work with 30 visually impaired volunteers as lived-experience consultants. This community-sourced model of leadership resulted in the adoption of unconventional techniques such as voice technology and tactile tools to communicate and collaborate. The result? An effective, relevant solution for the visually impaired that has (the community’s) fingerprints all over it, according to Guide Dogs Victoria’s chief executive officer, Karen Hayes AM.

The road toward successful digital transformation isn’t easy, but as the adage goes, more hands make light work. Rather than simply being a matter of equal opportunity and responsible business, inclusion should be treated as a vital part of the design and strategy process when planning for digital transformation. By including different perspectives and voices, organisations set themselves up to better align their digital investments with real needs and pain points — giving them the best chances of delivering meaningful and sustainable change for good.

Watch the full session recording of our “Change For Good” discussion session with Guide Dogs Victoria, eHealth Queensland and ANZ Bank.