Carole Gillespie, founder of business relationships consultancy, People Buy from People and author of Flying Start (How to Make Your Own Luck at Work), explains why relationships still matter, even in our digital age.

For those of us in IT, enabling our company or clients to respond to the opportunities from digital transformation (DT) is an exciting prospect. New technology, new business models, new, faster and less boring ways to do things offer a new landscape of opportunity. However, for those on the receiving end of a DT programme, the perspective can be quite different. The words: risk, change and even fear and dehumanisation are more likely to capture the instinctive reaction to this new world. But that has always been the case since the invention of the computer as we have applied the power of technology to enable us to do more things, more quickly and change our world.

More and more, we see that a programme that could benefit an organisation may well seem to have a negative or unclear impact for many individuals - often those that are expected to benefit.

Still true

Assuming we can make the technology work (that’s our fundamental responsibility after all), then the often-repeated phrase, ‘it’s about winning hearts and minds’, is a good mantra to focus our attention beyond the technology to enhance the likelihood of success. In reality, whilst the phrase is still true and we might agree with it, it can be hard to reach each individual. However, for optimal results, we need most individuals to be ready to play their part rather than be fighting to undermine something they think threatens them and makes them uncomfortable. We need co-operation rather than resistance. We need them to ‘buy’ or ‘buy-in-to’ the programme explicitly.

What is different about the change programmes we are doing today is the way both support and discontent can be magnified and shared so easily. It just takes a post by one person to go viral to change the view of many people about an issue ... or your Digital Transformation programme. Whereas, we had quite a long time to get the people aspects of a programme right in the past and address individual discontent/misunderstanding, it now needs to come much earlier in the cycle to get on the front foot and win the perception battle. Ideally before any battle starts.

Buying and selling

If you’ve ever been involved in trying to sell a thing or an idea to someone, you’ll know this can be hard if the other person doesn’t want to know. Another well used business phrase is that ‘telling isn’t selling’. In many change programmes, there is often a lot of mass communication to help people understand the programme - essentially to sell the programme to the wider company. Given that ‘telling isn’t selling’, it’s not surprising that the end result can sometimes be less buy-in to the programme and the plan than would be liked.

Whether it is getting someone to buy-in to your product or service and take action to buy it, or buy-in to your programme and take action to enable it to happen, you have to do more than just tell people about it (even if your communication is top class). What we do have to do is find a way to build a relationship between the DT Programme and individuals.


When people think about business relationships, it will most often be in the context of a business relationship between two individuals or with a business organisation. What we need for our DT project is a way to create a collaborative relationship between individuals and the programme. That brings us back to winning hearts and minds. Mass communication has an important role to play, but let’s remember that: ‘hearts and minds are won one individual at a time’.

That sounds like a lot of hard work. So, what do we have to address to enable us to do this, and do it consistently and effectively? To understand this, we need to step into the shoes of the people we need to win over.

Stepping in to the shoes of the individual

Let’s look at a DT Programme from the perspective of the people affected by it and think about what might be exercising their hearts and minds.

If we say that to ‘win hearts’ we have to address how people feel about the programme, their role and the impact on them, i.e. we have to address the things that are personally relevant to an individual. One-to-many messages rarely have enough impact in the ‘personally relevant’ space if you want to win someone’s heart.

Winning hearts - what individuals want to be able to say

  1. ‘My views have been listened to and I have confidence that I have been understood’ (Does not have to mean agreed with)
  2. ‘I understand what my world and role will look like at stages on the DT journey and how I will get from where I am to the new world’
  3. ‘Trouble has been taken to use language that I understand, without over-simplifying or being patronising’
  4. ‘I understand the impact of the programme for me personally’.

If we say that to win minds we have to give confidence that the wider programme team know what they are doing, and will do it well. We have to give people a belief in what is being done and how it is being done. One-to-many messages can be used very effectively to give this confidence.

Winning minds - what individuals want to be able to say

  1. ‘I am clear on what the programme aims to do and why’ (even if I don’t totally agree with it)
  2. ‘I have confidence in the viability of the plan and those delivering it’
  3. ‘I believe I have been given an honest view’.

What you can and can’t control

Putting together the picture that can capture minds and deliver answers to the three questions above in a way that creates belief and understanding is a fundamental business change management capability. Do this early in your DT programme to be ‘given the benefit of the doubt’.

If you can give confidence that you know what you are doing and why, and treat your audience with respect, you should then have the time to develop your strategy for engaging at the personally relevant level to capture Hearts. This will be different for large organisations to small ones and for globally distributed to single location businesses.

Get both right and the views and messages shared internally (and maybe externally too) by those involved and affected by the programme should have a positive rather than negative impact on your ability to deliver the promise offered by DT. You can’t control what people say but you can make sure you address how they feel about the programme and the belief they have in it and create the environment for co-operation rather than resistance.

Technology and people

Our technical expertise is critical to enabling DT programmes to deliver on the promises of this revolution, but our people and communication skills are equally critical. Specifically, our ability to communicate in a way that anyone can understand, our ability to bring to life how lives will be different as a result of our DT Programmes and the ability to build the working relationships that enable the trust and dialogues to tackle the difficult issues as they arise.

Answer the four heart questions and three mind questions with people early on in your programme and you’ll give your organisation a strong foundation for digital transformation success.