We all know that the impact of digital technologies has changed businesses profoundly. It has created an exciting time for leaders who can create new operating models, strategies and approaches. It is of course, also a challenging time. Change brings uncertainty, resistance and failures as well as successes. We need to keep pace with our customers – but they are transforming their behaviours more quickly than most businesses are able to mirror.

In this blog series, we will take a closer look at the implications of this both on a personal and organisational level. No organisation has ever adapted without inspiring its people to change. And no individuals have effectively transformed an organisation without looking more broadly than the behaviours of a few lone people. Bringing together the individual and organisational is something we believe in passionately, and have written about before.

We will start by considering how you bring about digitally-infused organisation change.

Our conversations with clients across the world reveal a division in how executives and leadership teams respond to the challenges of a digital age. The first (a minority) play down the changes and challenges. Their instinct is to look for signs of what hasn’t changed, what is still the same, reassuring themselves in turbulent times. This is valid in some ways – a digital evangelist who forgets the basics of creating value for customers and coherent customer experiences is dangerous. However, this typically results in small-scale interventions to address some of the most tangible challenges and opportunities. The second, larger, group recognises what can happen to those businesses that don’t respond quickly or significantly enough. They want to pre-empt disruption from new entrants or more agile, enterprising competitors already in their markets. So, they lean into the challenges and look for ways to disrupt their own business. 

Clearly, this is not easy to do. Challenges like creating strategic vision and clarity; an ability to experiment and take risks at time of low growth; middle management inertia; cultural and technological agility; talent acquisition and development, get in the way.

However, we are inspired by companies we’ve worked with like Novartis and Barclaycard: big companies with more regulations than most given that they operate in pharmaceuticals and financial services. Novartis for example, partnered with Google to create a contact lens that uses miniaturised electronics to measure sugar levels for diabetics and so provide real value for itscustomers. Barclaycard has experimented with different business models including Barclaycard Ring, a crowd-sourced credit card supported by an online community, which lets customers directly shape the interest rates, fees and design of the credit card – and share in its profits. It aims to disrupt the market so profoundly that Fortune magazine stated ‘Barclaycard’s goal is nothing short of upending an industry’.

So how can organisations shape their responses? In our work with brands and businesses, we use a 3-tier framework for companies who want to achieve ambitious change. These are companies that want to go further than just parachuting in talent, training people in SEO or social media – although they often do these, they understand where they fit in a broader agenda.

  • Set the Direction (Lead) Leadership teams often need support in setting and leading the direction for Digital. They need a clear strategy and vision, to define new ways of working, and to create change in their own behaviours and impact in order to engage the whole organisation.
  • Enable People (Organise) Companies need to look at their organisation design, operating model, ways of working, talent needs and skills development in the light of their digital capability gap. The trick is to join it up, framed by the new direction.
  • Sustain Growth (Deliver) As with any change initiative, it needs to be wired in to the fabric of the organisation. Cross-team collaboration, new skills and a common language, ongoing learning and agile responses don’t happen by chance. They need to be designed from the onset.

‘Digital’ has been a much talked about topic for many years now.  We’ve all seen the data, the success and failures yet there is still so much to do. In our recent interview, Claire Valoti from Facebook talks about a mindset of being 1% finished. That curiosity and openness to change resonates with us. In our next blog we will talk about constructive curiosity and other behaviours that we as individuals can adopt, to help us preempt digital disruption.

For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s digital capabilities, see our roundup on Marketing in the Digital Age.

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This post is by Jill Hughes, Managing Director Specialist Business Unit at Brand Learning