How to get leadership support for digital policies

The leadership must be committed to investing the necessary resources of time, money, human resources, and, in some cases, technology. So how do you get your management on board with digital policy aspirations?

Kristina Podnar
November 19, 2019

Sometimes it can be hard to get everyone on the digital team to focus on what really matters. That is why the digital policy program must be supported by and driven by the organization’s leadership, such as a business owner, C-suite (CIO, CTO, CMO, etc.), or even the board of directors. Also, if it was a rank-and-file employee who first raised a red flag about the lack of digital policies, the response must be seen as a leadership initiative.

That’s because new policies are rarely greeted with open arms—even though they almost always make things better! So there are still some people who try to slide under the radar, ignoring policies if they can get away with it. A clear, unequivocal mandate from leadership can avoid that problem.

Besides, the leadership must be committed to investing the necessary resources of time, money, human resources, and, in some cases, technology. So how do you get your management on board with digital policy aspirations?

Put the digital policy in the business context, making it familiar and engaging.

Leaders are great at business talk, which is why they are leading the business. Digital, on the other hand, may not be their strong suit. Digital policy is even less likely to pique their interest. That’s why you should talk about digital, and primarily digital policies, without technical details and only in business terms.

Adjusting your vocabulary may seem challenging at first. Still, explaining risks such as loss of consumer trust in your brand because it is disconnected across communications channels, government fines for data privacy violations, or being featured on the front page of The Wall Street Journal due to a security breach, are all things that leaders will understand. Leaders will identify with it even more if you explain that these risks (or the realization of the dangers!) need to be reported to the SEC and be part of your corporation’s fiscal reports like the 10-K or 10-Q.  

If you can also translate the value of digital policy into business terms, then all the better! After all, your brand has a monetary value and keeping that brand-safe allows you to maintain its value. Need to directly demonstrate how digital policy can help marketing and sales, tie policy into consumer sentiment and use sentiment analysis to track your brand safety risk and dial your marketing and sales activity up or down as needed can help your business' bottom line. What matters is that you explain digital policy and its value in the business context. And that more often than not means dollars (or Euros, or Yen).

Demonstrate value.

There is a very valid reason that policy gets a bad rep. Historically audit and risk teams have focused solely on the risks of behavior, never emphasizing the rewards. Even the name "Risk Team" is negative in its connotation, as opposed to the "Opportunity Team."  The sentiment is significantly worse in life sciences and financial services companies, where audit and risk teams are seen as nothing more than red tape or bureaucracy that slows down initiatives and prevents innovation. If you show up asking to introduce even more policies, especially digital ones, you are likely to be shown the door before your second PowerPoint slide.

So instead of trying to sell a digital policy, focus on demonstrating its value. I've been inside of organizations where we don't even use the dreaded "digital policy" term, opting instead for "guardrails" or going once as far as naming them "innovation sparks." What I always aim to do is demonstrate how policy can add value before trying to sell policy into the organization. For example, I recently worked with marketing, legal, and procurement teams to create a checklist of marketing campaign policies for digital agencies supporting the organization. Imagine how excited the business was with releasing a new product into the marketplace when it took nine business days to engage a new marketing agency (versus the tradition 27 days) and three days to sign a contract (versus the traditional 14). Besides, the business was excited to have partners who were trying to enable them to work better and faster, versus slow them down for “business as usual.” This type of solution demonstrates value. What could be better than that? Having business partners sing praises to leadership about the importance of digital policy.

Help them look good.

Many leaders don't understand digital, and that is fine. After all, would you instead that they focus on digital than running the business? I know I wouldn't! But that means that leaders are often left looking less than digitally savvy in front of their peers and direct reports. This is where you can get the upper hand in selling digital policy into your organization.

Everyone likes and even expects to be rewarded for actions that benefit the organization. In the case of leaders, that means getting credit for making a smart business decision on crucial digital policy issues, like increasing digital accessibility, which gets industry kudos and increases consumer buying with disabled users. It also tends to allow leaders to demonstrate core organizational values playing out in real life.

Keep them in the loop.

Don’t make the mistake of using leaders for a “hit and run” support on digital policies. Once you get their buy-in, make sure that you periodically come back to them with an update on how the policies are supporting the organization and adding business value. I like to provide quarterly dashboards on how policies are enabling different parts of the organization, ideally with objective insights, such as increase in marketing campaign time to market, user satisfaction rates due to higher SEO scores driven by policy, or increased brand loyalty because of policy-driven integrity. I am also very transparent when policies are not working out, be it because the staff doesn't have enough time or resources to adopt the policies, or a particular policy is no longer relevant and needs to be altered or retired.

Just remember that leaders tend to be extremely busy, they don’t care for digital policy detail, and they need to understand what action - if any quickly – you want them to take. So when reporting back and keeping leaders in the loop, focus on high-priority policy items and forego the details. It’s your job to worry about the little stuff, not that of a C-suite leader.  

Demonstrate digital policy link to legacy operations.

Leaders are smart, by definition. I am, therefore, never surprised when I hear a leader ask why we need to create a "digital policy" program. In reality, we don't. We need to extend legacy policy where appropriate and then supplement with digital-specific policies.

While it is vital to get your leadership on board with the digital policy, you should also be thinking and partnering with others throughout your organization, such as individuals in your business, marketing, IT, audit, risk, compliance, finance, HR, and other departments. If you can demonstrate to your leaders that you have collaboratively built relationships across the organization, that you are adding digital onto legacy efforts, and are avoiding creating a siloed digital initiative, then you will get not only their support but their respect. After all, leaders are looking for streamlining, efficiencies, and yes, new policies where they are justified!


Leaders consistently seek out ways to improve the business, decrease risks, and unearth new market opportunities. A key contributor to all three of these objectives is to have an excellent digital policy program in place. But like any organization-wide initiative, the digital policy must have the support of your leadership. I hope that this list will support you in getting your leadership on board and enabling the risk and opportunity of digital for your organization.

Photo by EJ Yao

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