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.
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.
I think that’s because I’m not sure how new it feels.
A proportion of individuals have always given directly to someone in need without needing intervention from a non-profit brand. Rewind the clock and you can see that’s how charities started (and continue to start).
Of course, technology is now a part of the journey, and that is new(ish). The convenience of crowd-funding platforms is a real enabler. Yet, that feels new mostly because we’re just in another tech adoption curve; we’ll move past the spawning of many platforms to a small set of reliable platforms that become the way to get something done.
We don’t know if disintermediation will result in more philanthropic giving than pre-internet – it just wasn’t tracked or published before. For example, I recently heard a charity praise their crowd-funding website for giving visibility of the fundraising by their local services. I’ve also pondered if the big successes in crowd-funding are simply aggregating money that would have been involved in smaller informal giving.
That’s not to say the third sector isn’t feeling a little bit unsure and perhaps even at risk due to the concept. You only need to look at the number of events and articles that have started to crop up to know that.
The perceived challenge is the fit with the way many charities currently work. Established charities have processes that help them comply with legislation, to manage reputation and brand, and to ensure investment in long-term sustainable impact as well as the short-term. All things that crowd-funding appears to handle very differently, if at all, at the moment.
But, there will always be people who just want to ‘do their bit’ without too much thought of who is handling the processing. For most, philanthropic acts are only a small part of their life. Based on the hypothesis that this has always happened and it’s just more visible now, what we’re really talking about is not a total shift in behaviours but about finding a way for both to work together better.
I think what we might need to adopt within charities is the Amazon approach; provide a user driven ‘marketplace’ alongside the brand. Provide choice transparently where the charity is facilitator. From what I’ve heard, Amazon’s business was strengthened by this rather than weakened…
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.
Recently I met a few colleagues from UNICEF offices all around the world to share experiences and build working relationships. The conversations flowed thick and fast so I’m sure I’ll be drawing on them for blog posts over the coming weeks.
One of the most fascinating things for me was how similar the challenges digital specialists are experiencing.
No matter where the person I spoke with came from, digital appeared to be in a state of flux with confused governance. Digital teams being seen as service delivery and often struggling to get a voice in strategy. And where digital channels are delivering ROI already there were more difficulties in influencing strategically unless someone on the Senior team really understood the future potential beyond the current ROI.
What intrigues me is whether this is just the pattern you see with any media change. You could probably replace the subject in most of these sentences and agree the paragraph still applies. So I’ve been trying to think back to the introduction of the printing press…
I think the key differentiator is where the change stems from. Many have already written that the centre of control is now people powered and organisation structures which are traditionally hierarchical are at odds with this.
This doesn’t explain the lack of understanding of the fact that pinning all your digital activity on an immediate ROI means you’re missing the full potential. I almost (almost almost) think the measurability of digital is its own worst enemy. Printed marketing wasn’t measurable from the start and so brands had to take a risk. With digital being more measurable from the start the line was drawn in a different place.
The pace of change in digital is also a challenge to articulating the potential – some organisations must now have around 10 years worth of web stats but they’ll illustrate the change in digital adoption more than any change in the audience relationship with the brand.
With all my pondering I’m not sure that print didn’t go through the same cycle of change. It’s just the fit with organisation structure was better so it didn’t feel so disruptive.
One final thought… Printing has an ‘end product’ but that stage is just the beginning with digital.
I was chatting with someone today and we hit upon something I think I’ll be pondering for a little while. I thought I’d put it out there so hopefully some of you can join me!
We were chatting about the phenomenon where a particular digital tactic becomes something everyone thinks they should do without question, yet it’s previously been something no-one outside the digital team gave the time of day to.
The example we talked about was twitter in advocacy calls to action. But we started to see a potential pattern…
- Early adopters take a chance on a tactic after some risk and value analysis, and/or small scale pilotting. The digital team assumes the role of ‘drum banger’ and innovators.
- Assuming it works, and / or other charities have made it work, the tactic ‘drum banging’ is at its noisiest.
- Everyone then wants to do it but doesn’t (always) consider the value and risk appropriately. The digital team find themselves having to switch to more of an overseeing role, typically perceived as controlling rather than empowering.
- Moving from perceived innovator to controlling in a short period of time causes challenges, both in team and across teams.
So is there a way around this? Can you avoid the challenges?
When a tactic becomes mainstream should it move out of digital?
… the pondering continues.
Dougles Rushkoff is famous for his views on new media’s impact on society and his latest book is a great read. I read ‘Program or be Programmed’ last year and found myself agreeing with most of it. It’s about how technology is shaping our lives, rather than our lives shaping technology.
Reflecting on this a year after reading I’m starting to revisit applications for this theory in my day-to-day. This thought stands out:
A part of any digital job should be about inspiring inquisitiveness and experimentation in those who think digital is a “black box” they won’t understand. A “black box” which is dangerous and forbidden to tamper with. In doing this you’re helping people go from programmed to program, from technophobe to digital native.
What do you think? Are you doing this in your role?
In a week where the Government’s digital champion Martha Lane Fox said there was a digital skills gap in charities [ref: ACEVO conference] it seems only right that I finally write this blog post.
Round two on what everyone ‘just doing digital’ means; “the nirvana where everyone is ‘just doing digital’ may come, but what’s the ideal transition digital team?”. I’ve been contemplating this mind boggler and avoiding writing anything for a good few weeks. But the quote from the ACEVO conference tipped me over the edge.
What does the ideal transitional digital team look like?
It might be big or small, digital all-rounders, or specialists in discrete areas. These specifics are dependent on the organisation size and needs. In this transitional time those factors are less important than the ethos and culture of the team.
I think it’s crucial that the individuals are avid life-long learners who enjoy passing on knowledge. It’s only with these traits that a digital team can help close the skills gap talked about. Remembering of course that the organisation needs to provide the space and resources that allow them to act in this capacity.
It’s even more important that the transitional digital team is not over protective or territorial. A true collaborative approach is needed to make the hub and spoke model work. Other teams need to bring their expertise to the table and own the integration of digital into their work. This means a digital team letting go – occasionally even if you’re doubtful something will be a success. As long as the risk isn’t high, letting others learn through trial and error is the quickest way.
Being a change agent isn’t without its challenges. So patience and persistence are the final facets of a great digital transitional team.
So… what do you think? Are there other skills digital charities teams need right now?
BTW: Thanks to David Bull for tweeting the quote that tipped me over.
My recent posts have sparked some real world discussions around two questions:
- If everyone in the future is ‘just doing digital’ what will digital teams be doing?
- And, as best posed by Alison Daniels, “the nirvana where everyone is ‘just doing digital’ may come, but what’s the ideal transition digital team?”
I’m going to explore the first question here and dedicate a separate post to the other one (watch this space!).
The easiest way to explore this question is with a definition of what everyone in an organisation ‘just doing digital’ could look like, and identifying some of the questions this creates.
Everyone is ‘just’:
- creating web content – they’re writing web pages, creating short videos, and posting pictures.
- using social media - through networks like facebook they’re servicing and attracting customers / supporters, through networks like linkedIn they’re making business connections, and they’re using all types of social media to co-create strategies and products.
- building websites – they’re using drag and drop online tools to create simple web pages that ‘do stuff’.
- doing digital marketing – they’re creating (or commissioning) search, affiliate and display advertising campaigns.
So here are the questions:
- How do you manage the quantity Vs quality balance?
- How do you prioritise for the greater good rather than individual interests?
- How do you avoid duplication and cannibalisation where it matters?
- How do you avoid fragmentation and make integration happen?
- What if existing off-the-shelf tools don’t do what you need them to do?
- How do you stop your digital activity looking identikit if you’re ‘just doing’ what everyone is ‘just doing’?
- How do you keep on top of the next new thing if you’re busy doing the day job?
I see the role of future (and perhaps existing) digital teams is to answer these questions. In fact, stepping back, these questions are not too different from those that marketing teams have worked with for a while. So a logical conclusion might be that digital teams will become the marketing teams of the future.
And so we see the rise of creative marketing technologists – this presentation summarises it nicely.
So what do you think? Are you a future creative marketing technologist?