Defining the milestones to becoming a digital company

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The Digital Leaders Think Tank

Our latest Digital Leaders Think Tank at Hays Recruitment in London, under this title, was in many ways the most difficult one for me as chairman, since I began chairing DLTT events almost 5 years ago.

Hays does a huge amount of work in the digital space and is one of LinkedIn’s biggest clients in the UK. Moreover –

  • they get that digital is important:
  • they dedicate resources to planning their strategy:
  • and they are constantly adapting it.

Hays Recruitment was therefore the perfect host for the topic.

Before the discussion I imagined this to be one of the most structured sessions I could chair: but it wasn’t to be like that at all. However what we all learned was fascinating.

There were very different types of organisations around the table. What usually happens at DLTTs is that everyone finds common ground and after the event they usually comment on how they enjoyed seeing that many companies share the same issues.

However what happened here was the opposite, and as I tried to make this a step-by-step discussion I realised that for the organisations around the table their first steps were all different, depending on what their operation is and does.

Public and Private Views

For example how a Government body, or a B2B, or an SME would start the journey all varied widely. Also depending on whether the DLTT member worked in marketing, sales, IT, content or strategy had a big impact on their opinion of how to become a digitally enabled company.

I pull together stakeholders in companies for a living and I have my own views on how things should be done: but there is no point surrounding yourself with brilliant digital leaders at a think tank and not listening carefully while they all consider the steps from very different viewpoints.

For example one huge government organisation’s digital leader was from an IT architecture background and felt that letting the staff get creative at ground level with digital and having small successes was the way forward to becoming digitally enabled – and only after there has been success should the case be brought up to leadership, as good ideas don’t go far with public sector leaders in the absence of data and facts.

Digital TransformationStrategy & Action: chicken & egg?

Some of the strategists around the table said that you should set the vision first, then the objectives and strategy, and only then decide on how delivery should happen.

The B2B attendees and the sales people were clear that it was all about getting the board to buy in first, and that meant linking to their business objectives/sales objectives. So the first step was to identify objectives and the digital strategy should enable those objectives.

Others said that it was not as cut and dry as everything being linked to core objectives: there were clever, innovative things happening across the organisation from a digital perspective that were not linked to their core business objectives – but they none the less made the organisation more effective and efficient.

We were somewhat unfocused as we discussed what digital enablement meant, because each person had different views on where to start the digital enablement process: but these were all valid based on their own experiences.

Second Half: Regrouping

After the break we agreed that the discussion had been going in different directions, so we regrouped and agreed to narrow the discussion to what needs to happen for a large B2B company to become digitally enabled. Here is what came up in the discussion:

  1. Top down is the way forward in B2B.
  2. Before speaking to the board, fully understand: Our vision. How we operate. How we sell. Where we sell. The internal and external environment.
  3. Get the board to acknowledge either a digital advantage or digital disruption.
  4. Get them to a point of being ‘consciously incompetent’.
  5. Incorporate quality storytelling. Answer the question: ‘How can digital change our business’?
  6. Ask: ‘What is the impact if we change and what is the impact if we don’t?’
  7. Ask: ‘Why Change? What to change to? What to change?’
  8. Don’t mix tactical discussions with strategic discussions. When examining strategy, look at risks and opportunities.
  9. Educate the board on digital as part of their professional development programme.
  10. Encourage your leaders to go on ‘Business Safaris’ where they go and visit other companies and see digital in action in other environments.
  11. Use terminology the board are familiar with.  Don’t use jargon. For example don’t make it a ‘tech programme’: make it a ‘business change programme’.
  12. Get quick wins and link them to storytelling. Tell your internal stakeholders about your wins in a way that makes them want to share the story with others.
  13. Tactically understand the internal and external comms tools available to you: and know what is measurable and what is not when using those tools.
  14. Get the leaders to lead by example in the way that they communicate digitally.
  15. Be clear on the resources and time required to digitally enable your company. Secure them and use them all.

Digital Change

Different Strokes

This DLTT was interesting as it was more evident than ever before that the type of company and the type of audience really does affect the type of approach to becoming digitally enabled. B2B and internal digital communications are very different to B2C mass communications and their associated campaigns. Government bodies are starting mini digital revolutions across the organisation, to change leadership’s attitude to becoming a digitally enabled operation.

The final message for pretty much any organisation is this:

When pulling leaders together to address their digital enablement, use a very basic tactic of directly addressing the question leaders ask: ‘What’s in it for me?’

You have to understand and address that question before earning the right to address their next question of, ‘How are we going to do this?’