For the last two years I’ve been leading UNICEF UK on a journey to become digital first, something the org committed to in 2010/2011 as part of the 5 year strategic plan.
I’ve spoken and written about our digital transformation journey a few times. I’ve also chatted to a few people from different charities who are considering their own journey. When I’m asked what my top tips are I typically highlight two things:
Don’t underestimate your own preciousness
You need to empower everyone to use digital channels and ways of working, letting some mistakes happen or project timings extend. Letting go can be hard if you’re used to being the direct deliverer with a level of specialism that has taken years to acquire. It can also be hard for an organisation to take a possible hit on quantity and/or quality while the learning curve takes over.
You just have to let go – letting others learn through doing is critical for change to happen.
Be prepared to sacrifice short-term wins for long-term gain
Transformation is a long journey – this is often at odds with the usual character type in digital. We’re enticed by the almost overwhelming industry speed and we tend to see new opportunities and quick wins everywhere. I’m sure I could spend my entire time bringing great results through fixing and activating new things.
You need to focus on getting the long-term infrastructure (tools, skills and behaviours) in place. This isn’t the kind of stuff that shows immediate results and with finite resources you have to make a choice.
Now we’re a couple of years into our journey we’re taking a hard look at how far we’ve gone and what the next phase is. If you have 10 mins please take our survey.
Watch this space …
I first wrote about the hub and spoke model back in summer 2011. Since then I’ve talked to a lot of people about it.
I’m a raving advocate for the model. The cultural changes needed to realise the benefits of digital are only really possible through an integrated approach driven from a single focal point. This is why I’ve often pondered how this model could work at a global scale for an organisation.
Local autonomy is important. I’ve been one of those ‘HQ people’ working with local offices, and now I am part of a ‘local office’ in a global organisation. So I know how important a certain level of independence is. Without this you can’t adapt to local market or community needs, innovation and motivation is stifled, and you risk not being able to capitalise on local opportunities.
Dandelions might just be the answer I was looking for. Jeremiah Owyang posted about social business models recently and described this model as:
Multiple hub & spoke “Dandelion” notice how each business unit may have semi-autonomy with an over arching tie back to a central group.
Reflecting on this – I recognise this model from my current and past workplaces – it’s nothing new. Yet it’s strange how giving a name to something means you can examine and discuss it more easily. Examining it leaves me agreeing with the points Jeremiah makes and adding a few of my own;
- too much internal comms = noise; but an internal social network delivers the power of discovery and self-filtering.
- decentralised cross- team working is critical; but it’s tricky for central hubs to empower and be sufficiently in the loop to add value.
- focus on the bright spots; understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each hub gives strategic opportunities for spreading learning.
- apples and pears aren’t the same; a common language and frame of reference (eg terminology) makes it easier to identify and share insights.
- sharing needs to be incentivised; to motivate teams to share it needs to return local results or at least recognition.
- people trust people; there’s nothing like face to face to build trust and communication, with video meetings there’s no excuse.
This week I picked up a new phrase (thanks Ian); ‘technology sovereignty’. It’s a nifty way to explain a principle I’ve used in my work ever since I can remember.
Technology Sovereignty = While you might, and probably should in many cases, outsource your technology supply and maintenance needs to a specialist/s – you should not hand over complete control.
There’s obvious downsides if you do hand over your sovereignty; reduced ability to negotiate price or options, reduced flexibility, and more. You could even find yourself in the terrible position I once experienced.
At one workplace I inherited a setup where the website CMS, development contract and hosting were all with one supplier – then the company went into administration due to a hostile merger. I was forced to move suppliers without any real choice, unless you consider months of downtime a choice. The new supplier had significantly higher prices and no understanding of the CMS (among other things).
I learnt a lot from that experience. One thing I realised is how much I’ve leaned on my computer science background to help me at work. The benefit of being able to challenge and co-design solutions with suppliers has definitely helped me to keep more control and avoid all kinds of issues.
Recently someone told me they didn’t feel they should need to know this stuff to do their digital job. In reply I talked about car maintenance. I was taught about how a car engine worked in school. It didn’t mean I could build an engine – but I could describe how it should work. It’s meant I can challenge car mechanics where needed.
So should you outsource your technology?
Yes, at least in part. Outsourcing often means you can benefit from economies of scale that come with a supplier or platform having multiple clients. But make sure you know what you’re talking about and avoid having a single point of failure unless it’s an area where failure doesn’t matter.
Today we had a session at work on well-being and employee engagement. Lots of interesting management theory and practise was shared. At one point during discussion I drew a diagram to explain a point I was making. It seemed to explain things pretty well and someone even said I should write a book
I’m not going to write a book, I imagine someone has already beaten me to it, but I thought it might be useful to share here.
I wanted to explain the delicate balance between skill, passion and organisational need in creating the right mix of team members. It’s particularly relevant to a disruptive industry like digital.
There’s lots of people who have passion for digital, but that doesn’t mean they have the skill/s, or that the organisation needs the particular thing that individual is passionate about. How many times have you had to gently remind people that ‘shiny new’ digital idea in isolation is less likely to get results? Or how many bad videos by keen hobby videographers have you sifted through?
But at the same time; meeting an organisation need and having the right skill is often not helpful unless the passion is also there. While digital is still evolving you need passion in order to keep up with industry changes and / or to have that moment of inspiration that makes your delivery different or better.
A little while ago I was extremely flattered to be asked to say what I thought every charity leader should know about digital as one of around thirty ‘opinion leaders’. There’s some great content so I thought I’d repost it for anyone who hasn’t yet seen it. I’ve also got some additional thoughts to add to my points (slide 33) so I’ve expanded on them here.
Silos don’t exist externally, don’t let them exist internally
Digital is breaking down walls because of the required ways of working, but the silos shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Recognise the organisational change your digital staff may (or should) be driving and create space for it to happen.
+ Personal responsibility is something every leader strives to embed in their whole team, its good business sense. The same is true with digital, it should be everyone’s responsibility to embrace and explore the opportunities and challenges. Leaving it to the digital staff alone can slow change down and re-enforce siloes. This also means every leader taking the time to explore how to integrate digital into work (and life) too. While existing work approaches are effective they might be bettered… you don’t know what you don’t know.
Your brand has always been what people say about you – you can just see it more
The risks of social media aren’t much bigger than those you already have when a member of staff picks up the phone or knocks on a door. Put the same effort into social media training and guidance and you should be covered.
+ Designing enablers for others to use your brand is the other critical component. Providing easy tools, guides and ways for audiences to use your brand is a proactive way to manage brand. After-all we’re all pretty lazy
Focus on outcome, not sparkle
An app may be on-trend but you need to do the basics (search, email, website) brilliantly first. It’s a better investment. If you’re not up-to scratch in these areas your other promo activity will be less effective.
+ The opposite side of the coin is also useful to keep in mind (sorry it’s never simple!). Sometimes the sparkly things will get you the outcome you’re looking for. Build a culture that can be experimental at low risk with low effort, at the right time! An example is our UNICEF pinterest experiment, here’s an interview with Beth Kanter about it.
Evidence based decisions rule
Why guess when you can test. Next time you’re agonising over a headline, colour, layout or something else equally subjective remember this. You can test run your work – taking the guessing and the internal politics out of the situation.
+ This is another double-edged sword to be aware of. The old saying is true – if you fail you should try again. So much can influence a result that you need to be sure your test was valid. Too many definitive decisions could limit your options too soon.
Mobile is already here, and it’s not going away
If you’re redesigning your website, emails or anything else, including how you interact in face to face activities – design for mobile devices first. This should also concentrate the mind on ditching any unnecessary-ness.
+ Mobile web is still in evolution. It’s right to invest but worth considering slightly more short-term solutions until the technology starts to settle down more.
I often mull over whether my digital transformation work will ever been done (in a good way), and what it will look like when we get there. I was thinking this over while scanning through a e-consultancy report on the evolution of agencies. There were a couple of role descriptions which I think go some way to painting a picture of digital first organisation structures:
“staff who have a strong, vertical digital skill, but have either a breadth of experience outside of this vertical area or at least a useful level of understanding and empathy with other vertical digital channels and, notably, with traditional marketing practice and techniques.”
Chief creative technologist (More on this theme in the excellent chiefmartec blog)
“The three main areas of focus for the role are:
1. Helping the Chief Marketing Officer translate strategy into technology and vice versa
2. Choreographing data and technology across the marketing organisation
3. Infusing technology into the DNA of marketing – practices, people and culture”
I’m still undecided whether digital teams will cease to exist entirely. I certainly think there will be fewer titles with ‘digital’, ‘web’ or ‘online’ within them. Like the descriptions above, digital and non-digital staff will have more rounded skills-sets all around.
So, it’s been a little while since I last posted. Don’t worry I’ve still been living all things digital (twitter and instagram prove that) but I’ve been faced with immense writers block. So this is me breaking it quickly and concisely.
Since I last wrote I’ve been to a few digital events, perhaps too many, many are on personal time so that’s one excuse I’ve been using for my lack of blogging. I’ve also spoken a couple of times on the digital transformation work I’m leading at UNICEF UK so here’s the presentation via slideshare.