Tag Archives: digital strategy

Digital Transformation Dialogues – Part 4 – Creating the Right Culture around Collaboration Tools

[Here’s more from my ongoing dialogue with transformation expert and friend Scott K Wilder. In the last post, we discussed ways to make an older workforce more digitally savvy. Scott ended that post with this: “Personally, I would rather be HipChatted vs. Slacked. But technology sometimes like religion. You have to find out what people are most comfortable with. At Marketo, it was Slack. At Salesforce, it is Chatter. For me, I prefer to be Skyped!. How about you?”]

GA: I’m a reluctant video user. I was always the kid who liked to sit in the very back of the class hunched down behind somebody who played Right Guard on the football team. That being said, I have some issues with chat too. It’s a very interruptive technology. I know that’s it’s super popular with developers – and I see the point particularly in Agile teams. But I always viewed serious code writing as essentially monastic. That may seem ludicrous, but writing large scale software is a real intellectual undertaking – requiring you to hold hundreds of thousands of lines of code in your head and have at least a general sense of how they fit together and what’s there. I’m not convinced you can do that while you’re regularly dropping in and out of chat sessions (or, for that matter, having meetings every 30 minutes). When I was writing large-scale code I pretty much talked to no one. Of course, a vanishingly tiny percentage of people are writing serious code. But I feel the same way about writing – something I do regularly. When I’m writing a piece I care about, I seriously don’t want to be interrupted. So my question really is about protecting culture – you’ve talked about adoption – and creating a culture of usage. I agree that’s important – in fact it’s a far more common failure point. Life being what it is, though, we also have to worry about too much success (and part of adoption is assuring people that culture won’t change too much – even if it will). So how do you create an etiquette culture around collaborative technologies that protects other types of behavior we value? After all, no company wants the family equivalent of everyone whipping out their iPhones at the dinner table…

SW: Ah, now we are getting into a little psychology and ethnography. For me, there are two ways to approach this (business) issue:

  1. Constantly try to understand the different personalities in your company
  2. Consistently establish and communicate company values throughout the organization

In every organization, there are many personality types. Each responds to new challenges in different ways, especially when it comes to adopting new technologies. Individual or team behaviors can be looked at through a Myers Briggs lens. Or you can examine various personas involved.

Ironically, 80% of companies do market segmentation with personas or some other kind approach, but few take the time to do the same thing when trying to figure out how to work with their own employees. Few companies step back and look at the different ways their own people adopt technology. There is often little conversation about how new processes and technologies diffuse throughout an organization. So what’s my point about all of this psycho mumbo jumbo.

Before you can create a culture around the adoption of a new technology, you need to understand the different personality types in your organization. And it helps if you leverage a topography like Myers Briggs, to help understand how people learn or adopt new technologies.

For example some people might prefer to learn on their own either studying a user manual or watching videos before kicking the tires and testing out a new product. Others might prefer to learn with a mentor or teacher to guide them. And others might want to learn by participating with others. The important thing is to first understand how an individual responds and adapt to new ways of doing business.

After you know the different types of people/personalities you are dealing with, you can begin to focus a culture that fosters the adoption of new technologies while protecting people’s values (or how they want to start using the new technology).

Finally, the challenge is getting these different types of people to function on a day-to-day basis with each other. This will be easier if you have provide a comfortable and safe environment for them to learn at their own speed and in their own way.

Secondly, when creating an etiquette culture around collaborative technologies, it’s important to present them to your employees by showing how they map to your core company values (This assumes you have company values). Atlassian, my current employer, has very strong values which are reviewed every time the company works on a project. Some of them include:

  • Don’t #@!% the customer: This statement promotes honesty and transparency. The company knows that their Customers are their lifeblood. Without happy customers, they are doomed
  • Play, as a team: As they say “We spend a huge amount of our time at work. So the more that time doesn’t feel like “work,” the better. We can be serious, without taking ourselves too seriously. We strive to put what’s right for the team first – whether in a meeting room or on a football pitch.”

These are just two of the values. There are others, but each one is used to help keep every employee aligned and heading towards the company’s True North, especially when adopting a new collaborative technology or trying to change behavior across the organization.

Finally, collaboration has no beginning nor end It is a continuous journey that involves multiple parts of your organization.

GA: There’s a lot here to respond to. I’m totally on board with your thoughts around corporate culture and values. Most companies pretend to have values – some actually do. And while I’ve argued in some other cases that you can drive analytics without necessarily having top-down support (though it sure does help), culture building is either hierarchic or anarchic – and anarchic rarely works as a model. That isn’t to say that individual managers can’t create micro-cultures inside a larger organization. They do – and pretty constantly. But those micro-cultures – for good or ill – are always getting worn down and eroded by the broader culture. There’s no place where the impact of senior folks is more pronounced than on setting the tone for this kind of culture building – and, as I’ve argued elsewhere, culture building isn’t done with words. In the beginning was the deed! You can talk “Don’t #@!% the customertill you’re blue in the face, but the first time an executive makes a decision to the contrary, all that talk will be less than worthless (and I do mean less since it creates negative value in the company). That’s one good reason why it’s important to have values you A) actually care about and B) can reasonably live up to.

I’m less comfortable with tests like Myers-Briggs for employee segmentation. I’ve never been confident that personality tests capture anything real. I know they have a lot of fans (and a lot of fans among people whose opinions I respect) – but I’m unconvinced. Sure, we all see ourselves in the results of these tests. But we see ourselves in our horoscopes too. Self identification isn’t objective verification. But I’ll give you the validity of personality types and still question whether it’s a good tool to help drive cultural adoption (and proper etiquette) around social technologies. I’ll buy that segmentation would bring something to crafting a change management and adoption strategy – but would I use personality types or would I use things like rank, role, and behavior?

Convince me if you can!

Finally, let’s talk technology. I’d love to get your thoughts on what types of collaborative technologies make the biggest difference in an organization. And I’d also like your thoughts on whether that’s even the right question. Do you need to think about a collaborative suite? Will one tool likely die on the vine where a constellation of tools might work? I’ve seen both approaches fail – but that’s never conclusive. We live in a “baseball” world where failure is always the most common outcome.

 

Digital Transformation Dialogues – Part 3 – Bringing an Older Workforce up to Speed and Driving Adoption of Digital Tools

[Here’s more from my ongoing dialogue with transformation expert and friend Scott K Wilder. In the last post, we discussed the role of Millennials in balancing an older workforce. But I wanted a little more detail on how to get an older workforce more digitally aware…]

SW: I probably forgot this one because I am an older guy, but I’m also someone who thinks it’s every marketer’s responsibility to learn digital technology. Before I directly answer the question, let me give you an example. My son is really into drones and wants me to take him to some national parks so he can fly his drone. Before I make a road trip with him, however, I want to master drones, so I hired a drone coach. After all, I am the one who is ultimately responsible for my son’s safety. Working at as a Digital Marketer or Digital Employee requires the same commitment. The only difference, however, is that companies need to play a bit of the parental role and provide a clear path for their employees to learn about technology.

This can be done by paying for courses (Marketo, my former employer, pays for its employees to take courses at Lynda.com). It can be done by making ‘learning certain technologies’ as required for the job. Instead of saying you learn it or you lose it (your job), position this change as an opportunity to skill up — and that the company is investing in the future (in its best asset, its employees).

Companies also should provide career guidance — either for older employees to find other opportunities within their company or with a company’s partner. Training, career guidance are not only great retention tools, but also build loyalty after an employee moves on.

Companies also need to gently require that digital technologies be used in their everyday business practices. If the older person wants to remain part of the company, they will have to hop on the digital bus. And like the Magic School Bus (a book my kid loves), it will be a journey into unknown — with lots of opportunity to learn, a bit of uncertainty and a fun adventure. You know what. Even outside the office, they will feel as if they are on the Magic School Bus because by learning technology, older folks can have a more enriched life. My son Facetimes and Skypes with his Grandma twice a week.

Why should companies do this? Why should they make this investment? Several reasons, such as older workers tend to be loyal, older workers already know ‘your business’. Companies should also build incentive systems — gamify their career development — so they will be motivated to take on the exciting challenge of improving their skills.

Final note: Being Digital is more than just using the internet and Facebook. Companies should also figure out what digital technologies will help these older workers do their job better. If they need to be on social media, teach them Hootsuite. If they need to manage email programs, teach them Autopilot or Exact Target. If they need to collaborate better, be their guide while they learn Slack or HipChat.

GA: There’s a couple of points that I want to particularly call-out there. One is that company’s aren’t taking full advantage of the explosion in high-quality educational courseware that’s available these days. Sure, lots of folks will do this on their own, but not everyone is sufficiently motivated. I’ve always said my number one guiding principal – and the reason transformation is so hard – is that EVERYONE IS FUNDAMENTALLY LAZY. Giving people real incentives and formal guidance on courseware so that it’s part of an employee’s basic career development is really easy to do and I think pays tremendous dividends. If your company hasn’t curated public courseware for specific career-tracks and incentivized your employees to take advantage, you should be kicking your HR team’s butt (just my humble opinion).

I’m also a huge fan of the idea (as you know) that people have to DO stuff. And I’m glad you brought up the technologies because that’s the next (and last) area I wanted to explore. A lot of the digital technologies are fundamentally collaborative. But that can make adoption critical to their success. I know you’ve been living this problem – how do you get a team (and keep my older, non-digital workers in mind) to adopt tools like Slack?

SW: Gary, why are you always asking me the hard questions? I think you ‘re correct in focusing on ‘the team’ vs. ‘the company’ and trying to mandate day 1 that a whole company start using something like Slack.

They key is to start with one group.  Pick a team that seems receptive to taking on new ways of doing things — especially when it comes to digital technology. And within that group, you should also identify a few key digital change agents, early adopters, who are willing to not only try out the new technology, but also be champions for it.

Create a program for these digital champions. It can be rewards focused, but even better,  show them how sharing their knowledge and experience will help them learn a new technology even better and make them more marketable. Intuit, where I spent almost a full decade, has a philosophy called “Learn Teach Learn.” The only way to really learn something is to teach it to others (Intuit has a great learning culture!).

Of course, there is another option. You could see if any group in the company is currently using Slack and make them that group ‘your change agents. At Marketo, it was actually the company’s commuters — employees who took a small shuttle bus that looked like one of those vans old age homes use to transport its frail residents – who started using Slack. They let their fellow workers know if they wanted the bus to wait for them or if they wanted the van to turn around and pick up someone they forgot. My group of commuters called our Slack group, The Purple Lobster.

The Slack group was called the Purple Lobster because that’s what we called the van. We picked purple because that was Marketo’s company color. And lobster because it wasn’t the fastest moving vehicle on Highway 101.

And like a lobster slithering in the sand (sorry about pushing the poetic envelop here) slowly, but surely ,other commuting groups started to using Slack. Eventually, product teams started using it And finally, the CTO and his team made the call to not fight the crowd and force the company to use another tool, like Chatter. Instead, CIO convinced his fellow executives to adopt Slack across the company. It was a brilliant ‘if you can’t beat them, then join them’ strategy.

If you identify a group using Slack, challenge them to go completely cold Turkey. See if they are willing to only use Slack only (no email) for a week or so. At Atlassian, I had my hand Slacked when I tried to send an email to someone with a simple question. They recommended I use their Slack like product, Hipchat. And now, I only have 20 emails in my inbox. How many of you have only 20 emails in your corporate email inbox?

If you are not so lucky to find early adopters, you need to find a group of people who are most like to use the new technology. If there are some older folks on the team, pair them up with the younger wipper snappers. Or provide some training.

The key in all this is not to focus on technology. Instead, treat the change to Slack or any other digital technology as a change management exercise. Focus on adoption — education, onboarding and engagement. None of this should be done in a vacuum. You need someone to shepherd the process. Someone who can be a guide, a teacher, a problem solver and yes, a true change agent.

Other considerations include rewarding people for their efforts and successes. Gamify the process! In doing so, make sure to acknowledge people’s efforts for trying. Don’t make the same mistake most schools make and only pass people for knowing the answer. As Carol Dweck, well known motivational researcher,  points out, children praised for hard work chose problems that promised increased learning (vs. just getting the right answer). This also applies to adults. Really!

The key here is to alter someone’s mindset. Instead of rewarding (just giving them a bonus) or punishing someone (not promoting them) for adopting a new technology, recognize their effort and hard work. The end result will be they might adopt taking on new challenges and succeeding at them. Even if it means learning and using something like Slack.

Finally good old training is important. It always amazes me how many companies introduce a new technology and offer one time training. Usually during a three hour class. If you are licensing a technology like Slack, see if they can conduct monthly webinars to answer questions (if not, you offer it). Also have videos and Q&As available for your staff.

Personally, I would rather be HipChatted vs. Slacked. But technology sometimes like religion. You have to find out what people are most comfortable with. At Marketo, it was Slack. At Salesforce, it is Chatter. For me, I prefer to be Skyped!. How about you?

Digital Transformation Dialogues – Part 2

(Resuming my dialog with transformation expert – and friend – Scott K Wilder). Scott had touched on the challenge an older workforce presents to digital transformation and the need to embrace Millennial Leaders…)

GA: I see this all the time. In fact, I’d venture to suggest that there might be a pretty strong positive correlation between the average age of your workforce and the perceived need for digital transformation. But this seems really hard to change. Good luck attracting young digital talent to a company that skews older AND is poor at digital. I also see challenges in adaptation. I argued that when you select a digital leader for transformation it’s important – even vital – to get someone who isn’t just experienced in cutting edge digital. They need to have experienced the pain of transformation to be effective in that role. But I see potentially similar problems trying to integrate younger employees into your workforce. I could see where they would just get frustrated. Obviously, though, this has to be done. Thoughts on how to smooth this? And thoughts about making an older workforce more digital in a fairly effective manner?

SW: Having younger individuals in your company is important for a true digital transformation. But don’t just hire them because they are less expensive than the older workers. Hire them because of how comfortable they are with technology and their desire to learn.

To smooth things out, first I would focus on what Millennials want in their career and / or what do they want to get out of their work. They have a tremendous desire to learn. Yes, it’s not just about achieving for them. Reminder: Creating a learning culture is an important way to transforming a company.

Therefore, during an interview process or an onboarding process, I would ask them:

– where do they see themselves in a year (none of this three year or five years stuff)

– what skills do they think they need to learn or acquire (maybe you, the hiring manager, help guide them towards an answer by sharing what skills are required for this)

– how can you (their manager support them)

Reminder: Find out their goals and aspirations before they start working

A big mistake companies make is that they never even consider asking these questions.

I would also look beyond the hiring manager or group. I would find a younger employee a mentor, who is outside the group they work in and who is not part of their of their everyday team (even if it is a cross-functional team). I would find someone who can be a good sounding board for the individual. In fact, I would have the person interview 2-3 potential guides or mentors. Let them feel like they are part of the process. Reminder: Assign them a mentor and Don’t just assign everything to a Millennial. (OK, that’s two reminders)

Establish toll-gates or check-ins with the younger employee. Part of creating a learning culture is to have an open and continuous feedback loop. Reminder: Check in with your younger employees even if there’s a manager that separates you and them.!

Younger people today are passionate about causes. So figure out if there’s a way to tie your digital transformation to a higher cause (or even calling). If you are T-Mobile, for example, can you use your technology to help people in less developered countries get better access to telecommunications (Maybe be part of Google or Facebooks’s Internet Satellite projects). Reminder: Define and share your cause!

And somewhat related to the ‘cause’ calling, make sure your company has a clear mission. People, in general, respond better when they know where the company’s True North lies — what the company is trying to accomplish. Final Reminder: If you really want to smooth things out and integrate younger employees into your digital transformation, make them a part of the journey from the beginning.

GA: This is great stuff. I’ve always been a little skeptical of generational theories – but there really are some noticeable differences with Millennials. It’s also, I think, a matter of our times. We talk about Millennials, for example, being passionate about causes – and I’ve certainly seen that. In general, though, I think it’s true more generally these days – not necessarily that people are more passionate about their causes  – but that they are more willing to cross work with other things and are less determined to have a work life and a non-work life which never shall meet. When you can get people to bring that extra passion to their work it’s a pretty big win.

But you dodged one aspect of my question (or at least sinned by omission) – what about getting older works more attuned to digital? In some ways, I think that’s a more important and interesting problem…

How to Drive Digital Transformation when You’re Not a Digital Expert : Addressing the Reverse Hierarchy of Understanding

In my last post I described some of the biggest challenges to a traditional enterprise trying to drive digital transformation. This isn’t just the usual “this stuff is hard” blather – there are real hurdles for the traditional large enterprise trying to do digital well. The pace of change and frictionless competition drive organizations used to winning through “weight of metal” not agility, crazy. The need for customer-centricity penalizes organizations setup in careful siloes. And these very real hurdles are exacerbated by the way digital often creates poor decision-making in otherwise skilled organizations because of what I termed the reverse hierarchy of understanding.

The reverse hierarchy of understanding is a pretty simple concept. Organizations work best when the most senior folks know the most about the business. When, in other words, knowledge and seniority track. For the most part (and despite a penchant for folks lower down in the organization to always think otherwise), I think they do track rather well in most companies. That, at least, has been my fairly consistent experience.

There are, of course, many pockets of specialized knowledge in a large company where knowledge and seniority don’t track. The CFO may not be able to drive TM1. The CTO probably doesn’t know Swift. That’s not a problem. However, when something is both strategic and core to the business, it’s critical that knowledge and seniority track appropriately. If they don’t, then it’s hard for the enterprise to make good decisions. The people who are usually empowered to make decisions aren’t as qualified as they typically are, and the folks who have the specific knowledge probably don’t have either the strategic skills or business understanding to fill-in. And, of course, they probably don’t have the power either.

Digital can create exactly this inversion in the appropriate hierarchy of decision-making in the traditional enterprise, and it does so at many levels in the organization. Digital has become strategic and core far more rapidly than most large organizations can adapt, creating reverse hierarchies of understanding that can cripple efforts to do digital better.

So if you want to transform a traditional business and you know your organization has a reverse hierarchy of understanding (or maybe just a complete lack of understanding at every level), what do you do?

There’s not one answer of course. No magic key to unlocking the secret to digital transformation. And I’ve written plenty of stuff previously on ways to do digital better – all of which still applies. But here are some strategies that I think might help – strategies geared toward tackling the specific problem created by reverse hierarchies of understanding.

 

Incubation

I’m sensitive to the many draw-backs to incubating digital inside a larger organization. If incubation succeeds, then it creates long-term integration challenges. It potentially retards the growth of digital expertise in the main business and it may even cannibalize what digital knowledge there is in the organization. These are all real negatives. Despite that, I’ve seen incubation work fairly effectively as a strategy. Incubation creates a protected pocket in the organization that can be staffed and setup in a way that creates the desired knowledge hierarchy through most levels.  Would I always recommend incubation? Absolutely not. In many organizations, years of at least partial learning and transfusions of outside talent have created enough digital savvy so that incubation is unnecessary and probably undesirable. If digital knowledge in your organization is still nascent and particularly if you have layers of management still skeptical or negative to digital, then incubation is a strategy to consider.

 

Transfusion

And speaking of talent transfusions, the role of appropriate hiring in effectively transforming the organization can hardly be overstated. The best, simplest and most impactful way to address the reverse hierarchy of understanding is to…fix the problem. And the easiest way to fix the problem is by hiring folks with deep digital understanding at multiple levels of the organization. In some cases, of course, this means hiring someone to run digital. If you’re a traditional enterprise looking to hire a chief digital officer, the natural place to look is to organization’s that are great in digital – especially the companies that dominate the Web and that we all, rightly, admire. I tell my clients that’s a mistake. It’s not that those folks aren’t really good at digital; they are. What they aren’t good at is digital transformation. If you’ve grown up managing digital platforms and marketing for a digital pure-play, chances are you’re going to be massively frustrated trying to change a traditional enterprise. To drive transformation, you have to be a great coach. That isn’t at all the same as being a great player. In fact, not only isn’t it the same, it’s negatively correlated. The best coaches are almost NEVER the best players.

Getting the right person to lead digital isn’t the place where most organizations go wrong though. If you’re committed to digital transformation, you need to look for digital savvy in every hiring decision that is at all related to your digital enterprise. You need digital savvy in HR, in accounting, analytics, in customer, in supply chain, in branding and corporate communication. Etc. Etc. This is the long game, but it’s ultimately the most important game you’ll play in digital transformation – especially when you’re trying to drive transformation outside of massive disruption. In my last post, I mentioned FDR’s many efforts to prepare the U.S. for WWII before there was any political consensus for war. Every leader is constrained by the realities on the ground. Great leaders find ways to at least lay the essential groundwork for transformation BEFORE – not after – disaster strikes. You need to make sure that digital savvy becomes a basic qualifier for a wide range of positions in your organization.

 

Analytics

Dare I say that analytics has the potential to play a decisive role in solving the reverse hierarchy of understanding? Well, at the very least, it can be a powerful tool. In a normal hierarchy of understanding, seniority comes pre-loaded with better intuitions. Intuitions born of both experience and selection. And those intuitions, naturally, drive to better decisions. It’s darn hard to replace those intuitions, but analytics is a great leveler. A good analyst may not be quite the decision-maker that an experienced expert is – but at the very least a good analyst equipped with relevant data will come much closer to that level of competent decisioning than would otherwise be possible.

Thankfully, this works both ways. Where senior decision-makers can’t rely on their experience and knowledge, they, too, benefit from analytics to close the gap. An executive willing to look at analytics and learn may not be quite in the league of an experienced digital expert, but they can come surprisingly close.

This works all up and down the organization.

So how do you get your team using analytics? I addressed this in depth in a series of posts on building analytic culture. Read this and this. It’s good stuff. But here’s a simple management technique that can help drive your whole team to start using analytics. Every time there’s an argument over something, instead of voicing an opinion, ask for the numbers. If your team is debating whether to deliver Feature X or Feature Y in digital, ask questions like “What do our customers say is more important?” or “Which do high-value customers say they’ll use more?”

Ask questions about what gets used more. About whether people like an experience. About whether people who do something are actually more likely to convert. If you keep asking questions, eventually people are going to start getting used to thinking this way and will start asking (and answering) the questions themselves.

Way back in the early days of Semphonic, I often had junior programmers ask me how to do some coding task. At the time, I was still a pretty solid programmer with years of experience writing commercial software in C++. But since I wasn’t actively programming and my memory tends to be a bit short-term, I almost never just knew the answer. Instead, I’d ask Google. Almost always, I could find some code that solved the problem with only a few minutes’ search. Usually, we’d do this together staring at my screen. Eventually, they got the message and bypassed me by looking for code directly on Google.

That’s a win.

Nowadays, programmers do this automatically. But back in the aughts, I had to teach programmers that the easiest way to solve most coding problems is to find examples on Google. In ten years, looking at digital analytics and voice of customer will be second-nature throughout your organization.  But for right now, if you can make your team do the analytics work to answer the types of questions I’ve outlined above, you’ll have dramatically raised the level of digital sophistication in your organization. This isn’t as foreign to most good enterprise leaders as I used to think. Sure, folks at the top of most companies are used to offering their opinions. But they’re also pretty experienced at having to make decisions in areas where they aren’t that expert and they know that asking questions is a powerful tool for pushing people to demonstrate (or arrive at) understanding. The key is knowing the right questions to ask. In digital, that usually means asking customer-focused questions like the one’s I enumerated above.

 

Consulting

I’m probably too deeply involved in the sausage-making to give good advice on how organizations should use consulting to drive transformation. But here’s a few pointers that I think are worth bearing in mind. Consulting is a tempting way to solve a reverse hierarchy of understanding. You can bring in hired guns to build a digital strategy or drive specific digital initiatives. And if you’re lucky or choose wisely, there’s no reason why consultants can’t provide real benefits – helping speed up digital initiatives and supplement your organizational expertise. I genuinely believe we do this on a pretty consistent basis. Nevertheless, consultants don’t fix the problems created by a reverse hierarchy of understanding; they are, at best, a band aid. Not only is it too expensive to pay consultants to make your decisions on a continuing basis, it just doesn’t work very well. There are so many reasons why it doesn’t work well that I can attempt only a very partial enumeration: outside of a specific project, your consultant’s KPIs are almost never well aligned with your KPIs (we’re measured by how much stuff we sell), it’s difficult to integrate consultants into a chain of command and often damaging if you try too hard to do so, consultants can become a crutch for weaker managers, and consultants rarely understand your business well enough to make detailed tactical decisions.

Don’t get me wrong. Building talent internally takes time and there aren’t many traditional enterprises where I wouldn’t honestly recommend the thoughtful use of consulting services to help drive digital transformation. Just don’t lose sight of the fact that most of the work is always going to be yours.

 

That last sentence probably rings true across every kind of problem! And while digital transformation is legitimately hard and some of the challenges digital presents ARE different, it’s good to keep in mind that in many respects it is just another problem.

I’ve never believed in one “right” organization, and when it comes to digital transformation there are strong arguments both for and against incubation. I think a decision around incubation ultimately comes down to whether digital needs protection or just expertise. If the former, incubation is probably necessary. If the latter, it may not be. Similarly, we’re all used to the idea that if we need new expertise in an organization we probably have to hire it. But digital introduces two twists. First, the best candidate to lead a digital transformation isn’t necessarily the best digital candidate. Second, real digital transformation doesn’t just come from having a leader or a digital organization. You should bake digital qualifications into hiring at almost every level of your organization. It’s the long game, but it will make a huge difference. And when it comes to leveling the playing field when faced with a reverse hierarchy of knowledge, remember that analytics is your friend. Teaching the organization to use analytics doesn’t require you to be an analytics wizard. It mostly demands that you ask the right questions. Over and over. Finally, and this really is no different in digital transformation than anywhere else, consulting is kind of like a cold medicine – it fixes symptoms but it doesn’t cure the disease. That doesn’t mean I don’t want my bottle of Nyquil handy when I have a cold! It just means I know I won’t wake up all better. The mere fact of a reverse hierarchy of understanding can make over-reliance on consulting a temptation. When you’re used to knowing better than everyone, it’s kind of scary when you don’t. Make sure your digital strategy includes thought about the way to use and not abuse your consulting partners (and no, don’t expect that to come from even the best consultants).

Keep these four lessons in mind, and you’re at least half-way to a real strategy for transformation.

Digital Transformation and the Reverse Hierarchy of Understanding

Why is it so hard for the traditional enterprise to do digital well? That’s the question that lurks at the heart of every digital transformation discussion. After all, there’s plenty of evidence that digital can be done well. No one looks at the myriad FinTech, social, and ecommerce companies that are born digital and says “Why can’t they do digital well?” When digital is in your DNA it seems perfectly manageable. Of course, mastering any complex and competitive field is going to be a challenge. But for companies born into digital, doing it well is just the age-old challenge of doing ANY business well. For most traditional enterprises, however, digital has been consistently hard.

So what is it that makes digital a particular challenge for the traditional enterprise?

That was the topic of my last conversational session at the Digital Analytics Hub this past week in Monterey (and if you didn’t go…well, sucks for you…great conference). And with a group that included analytics leaders in the traditional enterprise across almost every major industry and a couple of new tech and digital pure plays, we had the right people in the room to answer the question. What follows is, for the most part, a distillation of a discussion that was deep, probing, consistently engaging, and – believe it or not – pretty darn enlightening. Everything, in short, that a conversation is supposed to be but, like digital transformation itself, rarely succeeds in being.

There are some factors that make digital a peculiar challenge for everyone – from startup to omni-channel giant. These aren’t necessarily peculiar to the large traditional enterprise.

Digital changes fast. The speed of change in digital greatly exceeds that in most other fields. It’s not that digital is entirely unique here. Digital isn’t the only discipline where, as one participant put it, organizations have to operate in chaos. But digital is at the upper-end of the curve when it comes to pace of change and that constant chaos means that organizations will have to work hard not just to get good at digital, but to stay good at digital.

The speed of change in digital is a contributing factor to and a consequence of the frictionless nature of digital competition and the resulting tendency toward natural monopoly. I recently wrote a detailed explanation of this phenomenon, beginning with the surprising tendency of digital verticals to tend toward monopoly. Why is it that many online verticals are dominated by a single company – even in places like retail that have traditionally resisted monopolization in the physical world? The answer seems to be that in a world with little or no friction, even small advantages can become decisive. The physical world, on the other hand, provides enough inherent friction that gas stations on opposite sides of the street can charge differently for an identical product and still survive.

This absence of friction means that every single digital property is competing against a set of competitors that is at least national in scope and sometimes global. Local markets and the protection they provide for a business to start, learn and grow are much harder to find and protect in the digital world.

That’s a big problem for businesses trying to learn to do digital well.

However, it’s not quite true that it’s an equal problem for every kind of company. In that article on digital monopoly, I argued for the importance of segmentation in combating the tendency toward frictionless monopoly. If you can find a small group of customers that you can serve better by customizing your digital efforts to their particular needs and interests, you may be able to carve out that protected niche that makes it possible to learn and grow.

Big enterprise – by its very (big) nature – loses that opportunity. Most big brands have to try an appeal to broad audience segments in digital. That means they often lack the opportunity to evolve organically in the digital world.

Still, the challenges posed by a frictionless, high-chaos environment are almost as daunting to a digital startup as they are to a traditional enterprise. The third big challenge – the demand in digital for customer centricity – is a little bit different.

Digital environments put a huge premium on the ability to understand who a customer is and provide them a personalized experience across multiple touches. It’s personalization that drives competitive advantage in digital and the deeper and wider you can extend that personalization, the better. Almost every traditional enterprise is setup to silo each aspect of the customer journey. Call-Center owns one silo. Store another. Digital a third. That just doesn’t work very well.

Omni-channel enterprises not only have a harder challenge (more types of touches to handle and integrate), they are almost always setup in a fashion that makes it difficult to provide a consistent customer experience.

Customer-centricity, frictionless competition and rapidity of change are the high-level, big picture challenges that make digital hard for everyone and, in some respects, particularly hard for the large, traditional enterprise.

These top-level challenges result, inevitably, in a set of more tactical problems many of which are specific to the large traditional enterprise that wasn’t created specifically to address them. Looming large among these is the need to develop cross-functional teams (engineers, creative, analytics, etc.) that work together to drive continuous improvement over time. Rapidity of change, frictionless competition and the need for cross-silo customer-centricity make it impossible to compete using a traditional project mentality with large, one-time waterfall developments. That methodology simply doesn’t work.

Large, traditional enterprise is also plagued by IT and Marketing conflicts and Brand departments that are extremely resistant to change and unwilling to submit to measurement discipline. This is all pretty familiar territory and material that I’ve explored before.

Adapting to an environment where IT and Marketing HAVE to work together is hard. A world where traditional budgeting doesn’t work requires fundamental change in organizational process. A system where continuous improvement is essential and where you can’t silo customer data, customer experience or customer thinking is simply foreign to most large enterprises.

This stuff is hard because big organizations are hard to change. To get the change you want, a burning platform may be essential. And, in fact, in our group the teams that had most successfully navigated large enterprise transformation came from places that had been massively disrupted.

No good leader wants to accept that. If you lead a large enterprise, you don’t want to have to wait till your company’s very existence is threatened to drive digital transformation. That sucks.

So the real trick is finding ways to drive change BEFORE massive disruption makes it a question of survival.

And here, a principle I’ve been thinking about and discussed for the first time at the DA Hub enjoyed considerable interest. I call it the reverse hierarchy of understanding.

Organizations work best when an organization’s management hierarchy generally matches to its knowledge hierarchy. And believe it or not, my general experience is that that’s actually the case most of the time. We’re all used to specialized pieces of knowledge and specific expertise existing exclusively deep down in the organization. A financial planner may have deep knowledge of TM1 that the CFO lacks. But I’ve met a fair number of CFO’s and a fair number of financial planners and I can tell you there is usually a world (or perhaps two decades) of difference in their understanding of the business and its financial imperatives.

When that hierarchy doesn’t hold, it’s hard for a business to function effectively. When privates know more than sergeants, and sergeants know more than lieutenants and lieutenants know more than generals, the results aren’t pretty. Tactics and strategy get confused. The rank and file lose faith in their leaders. Leaders – and this may be even worse – tend to lose faith in themselves.

The thing about digital is that it does sometimes create a true reverse hierarchy of understanding in the large traditional enterprise. This doesn’t matter very much when digital is peripheral to the organization. Reverse hierarchies exist in all sorts of peripheral areas of the business and they don’t spell doom. But if digital become core to the organization, allowing a reverse hierarchy to persist is disastrous.

And here’s where digital transformation is incredibly tricky for the large traditional enterprise. You can’t invert the organization. Not only is it impossible, it’s stupid. Large traditional organizations can’t simply abandon what they are – which means that they have to figure out how to work with two separate knowledge hierarchies while they transform.

So the trick with digital transformation is building a digital knowledge hierarchy and finding ways to incorporate it in the existing management hierarchy of the business. It’s also where great leadership makes an enormous difference. Because most companies wait too long to begin that process – ultimately relying on a burning platform to drive the essential change. But while it’s hard to effect complete transformation without the pressure of massive disruption, it’s eminently possible to prepare for transformation by nurturing a digital knowledge hierarchy.

Think of it like FDR building out the U.S. military prior to WWII. He couldn’t fight the war, but he could prepare for it. We tend to define great leaders by what they do in crisis. But effecting change in crisis is relatively easy. The really great leaders have the vision to prepare for change before the onset of crisis.

So how can leadership address a reverse hierarchy of understanding in digital – especially since they are part of the problem? That’s the topic for my next post.

 

[A final thanks to all the great participants in my Digital Analytics Hub Conference session on this topic. You guys were brilliant and I hope this post does at least small justice to the conversation!]

A Guided Tour through Digital Analytics (Circa 2016)

I’ve been planning my schedule for the DA Hub in late September and while I find it frustrating (so much interesting stuff!), it’s also enlightening about where digital analytics is right now and where it’s headed. Every conference is a kind of mirror to its industry, of course, but that reflection is often distorted by the needs of the conference – to focus on the cutting-edge, to sell sponsorships, to encourage product adoption, etc.  With DA Hub, the Conference agenda is set by the enterprise practitioners who are leading groups – and it’s what they want to talk about. That makes the conference agenda unusually broad and, it seems to me, uniquely reflective of the state of our industry (at least at the big enterprise level).

So here’s a guided tour of my DA Hub – including what I thought was most interesting, what I choose, and why. At the end I hope that, like Indiana Jones picking the Holy Grail from a murderers row of drinking vessels, I chose wisely.

Session 1 features conversations on Video Tracking, Data Lakes, the Lifecycle of an Analyst, Building Analytics Community, Sexy Dashboards (surely an oxymoron), Innovation, the Agile Enterprise and Personalization. Fortunately, while I’d love to join both Twitch’s June Dershewitz to talk about Data Lakes and Data Swamps or Intuit’s Dylan Lewis for When Harry (Personalization) met Sally (Experimentation), I didn’t have to agonize at all, since I’m scheduled to lead a conversation on Machine Learning in Digital Analtyics. Still, it’s an incredible set of choices and represents just how much breadth there is to digital analytics practice these days.

Session 2 doesn’t make things easier. With topics ranging across Women in Analytics, Personalization, Data Science, IoT, Data Governance, Digital Product Management, Campaign Measurement, Rolling Your Own Technology, and Voice of Customer…Dang. Women in Analytics gets knocked off my list. I’ll eliminate Campaign Measurement even though I’d love to chat with Chip Strieff from Adidas about campaign optimization. I did Tom Bett’s (Financial Times) conversation on rolling your own technology in Europe this year – so I guess I can sacrifice that. Normally I’d cross the data governance session off my list. But not only am I managing some aspects of a data governance process for a client right now, I’ve known Verizon’s Rene Villa for a long time and had some truly fantastic conversations with him. So I’m tempted. On the other hand, retail personalization is of huge interest to me. So talking over personalization with Gautam Madiman from Lowe’s would be a real treat. And did I mention that I’ve become very, very interested in certain forms of IoT tracking? Getting a chance to talk with Vivint’s Brandon Bunker around that would be pretty cool. And, of course, I’ve spent years trying to do more with VoC and hearing Abercrombie & Fitch’s story with Sasha Verbitsky would be sweet. Provisionally, I’m picking IoT. I just don’t get a chance to talk IoT very much and I can’t pass up the opportunity. But personalization might drag me back in.

In the next session I have to choose between Dashboarding (the wretched state of as opposed to the sexiness of), Data Mining Methods, Martech, Next Generation Analytics, Analytics Coaching, Measuring Content Success, Leveraging Tag Management and Using Marketing Couds for Personalization. The choice is a little easier because I did Kyle Keller’s (Vox) conversation on Dashboarding two years ago in Europe. And while that session was probably the most contentious DA Hub group I’ve ever been in (and yes, it was my fault but it was also pretty productive and interesting), I can probably move on. I’m not that involved with tag management these days – a sign that it must be mature – so that’s off my list too. I’m very intrigued by Akhil Anumolu’s (Delta Airlines) session on Can Developers be Marketers? The Emerging Role of MarTech. As a washed-up developer, I still find myself believing that developers are extraordinarily useful people and vastly under-utilized in today’s enterprise. I’m also tempted by my friend David McBride’s session on Next Generation Analytics. Not only because David is one of the most enjoyable people that I’ve ever met to talk with, but because driving analytics forward is, really, my job. But I’m probably going to go with David William’s session on Marketing Clouds. David is brilliant and ASOS is truly cutting edge (they are a giant in the UK and global in reach but not as well known here), and this also happens to be an area where I’m personally involved in steering some client projects. David’s topical focus on single-vendor stacks to deliver personalization is incredibly timely for me.

Next up we have Millennials in the Analytics Workforce, Streaming Video Metrics, Breaking the Analytics Glass Ceiling, Experimentation on Steroids, Data Journalism, Distributed Social Media Platforms, Customer Experience Management, Ethics in Analytics(!), and Customer Segmentation. There are several choices in here that I’d be pretty thrilled with: Dylan’s session on Experimentation, Chip’s session on CEM and, of course, Shari Cleary’s (Viacom) session on Segmentation. After all, segmentation is, like, my favorite thing in the world. But I’m probably going to go with Lynn Lanphier’s (Best Buy) session on Data Journalism. I have more to learn in that space, and it’s an area of analytics I’ve never felt that my practice has delivered on as well as we should.

In the last session, I could choose from more on Customer Experience Management, Driving Analytics to the C-Suite, Optimizing Analytics Career-Oaths, Creating High-Impact Analytics Programs, Building Analytics Teams, Delivering Digital Products, Calculating Analytics Impact, and Moving from Report Monkey to Analytics Advisor. But I don’t get to choose. Because this is where my second session (on driving Enterprise Digital Transformation) resides. I wrote about doing this session in the EU early this summer – it was one of the best conversations around analytics I’ve had the pleasure of being part of. I’m just hoping this session can capture some of that magic. If I didn’t have hosting duties, I think I might gravitate toward Theresa Locklear’s (NFL) conversation on Return on Analytics. When we help our clients create new analytics and digital transformation strategies, we have to help them justify what always amount to significant new expenditures. So much of analytics is exploratory and foundational, however, that we don’t always have great answers about the real return. I’d love to be able to share thoughts on how to think (and talk) about analytics ROI in a more compelling fashion.

All great stuff.

We work in such a fascinating field with so many components to it. We can specialize in data science and analytics method, take care of the fundamental challenges around building data foundations, drive customer communications and personalization, help the enterprise understand and measure it’s performance, optimize relentlessly in and across channels, or try to put all these pieces together and manage the teams and people that come with that. I love that at a Conference like the Hub I get a chance to share knowledge with (very) like-minded folks and participate in conversations where I know I’m truly expert (like segmentation or analytics transformation), areas where I’d like to do better (like Data Journalism), and areas where we’re all pushing the outside of the envelope (IoT and Machine Learning) together. Seems like a wonderful trade-off all the way around.

See you there!
See you there!

https://www.digitalanalyticshub.com/dahub16-us/

 

Organizing the Digital Enterprise

At the Digital Analytics Hub in Europe I facilitated a conversation around enterprise digital transformation. We covered a lot of interesting ground, but organizing digital in the enterprise was the most challenging part of that discussion.

It’s a topic you can easily find yourself going around in circles with as people trot out opinions that sound right but sail past each other. That’s especially true since different organizations start (and want to finish) in very different places.

To get around that, I framed the problem in “state-of-nature” terms. If you were starting a digital organization from scratch in an enterprise, how would you organize and staff it?

But before we could answer that question, we had to consider something even more basic.

Should a “digital” organization be separate?

There’s a pretty strong sense these days that walling off digital from the rest of the organization gets things wrong from the outset. Digital should be embedded right into the DNA of the core organization. In a mature organization, there was a pretty broad consensus that digital isn’t a separate function. On the other hand, what if you’re not mature? Can you embed digital directly and grow it right if it’s inside the huge, complex structures that pervade an existing large enterprise? Even strong proponents of the “digital needs to be organic in the organization” point of view seemed to concede that incubation as a separate organization is often necessary to getting digital done and setup right. Of course, taking the incubation strategy is going to leave you with an organizational debt that at some point will have to be paid. The more successful you are and the larger and faster digital grows, the harder it’s going to be to re-integrate digital back into the organization.

I see both sides of this argument (and I’m sure there are more than two sides to be had). I’m just not a big believer in hard-and-fast right answers when it comes to organizational design.

If you have a strong digitally-experienced leader on your executive team and you have solid relationships between marketing and IT, maybe you try to transform digitally within your existing structures. If you’re not that lucky (and that is pretty lucky), maybe incubation with a strategy for integration is the right answer.

Having gotten to the point where most people conceded that incubation might sometimes be necessary, we returned to the “state-of-nature” question and discussed building out an incubated organization. Most people set product teams at the heart of that organization and agreed that these product teams should be organized very much along the lines that I described in my videos on enterprise transformation: agile-based product teams that include IT, creative and analytics people (behavioral, customer and attitudinal) all working together. In this model, there’s no pass-off from design to implementation to measurement to testing. The same teams that built a project optimize it – and there’s analytics at every step of the process.

I believe this is an incredibly powerful model for getting digital products right – and it’s a model that resonated across a pretty wide swath of different organizations – from giant retailers to very modest start-ups.

But it’s far from a complete answer to creating a digital organization.

Suppose you have these great integrated teams for each digital product, how do you handle all the ancillary functions that the large enterprise has developed? Things like finance and HR, for example. Do they need to be re-created inside a digital organization?

My reaction – and it was common – was that such functions probably don’t need to be re-created inside digital. Including these functions in digital doesn’t seem fundamental to getting digital right.

This point-of-view, however, was immediately challenged when it came to HR. The difficulties of digital hiring are well known – and it isn’t just finding resources. Traditional HR approaches to finding people, vetting candidates, compensation, and promotion bands are all problematic in digital. And if you get the people element wrong, everything else is doomed.

So once again, if you’ve got HR folks willing to work with and adapt to the needs of your digital leader, maybe you can leave existing structures intact and keep HR centralized. But HR is the wrong place to wimp out and leave your digital team without the power to execute the way they need to.

Bottom line? If my digital leader really wanted to own their own HR, I’d say yes.

Other functions? I don’t really know. Is it fundamental to digital execution? Does it need to be done differently in digital? Wherever the answer is yes, then it’s going to be a debate about whether it should live inside an incubated digital organization or be an outside service to it.

There’s another challenge that cuts even closer to the bone and lies at the heart of the challenge to the large enterprise. If you have a single digital product (like a pure-play startup might), you don’t have to worry about the relationship between and across teams and functions. But in a larger enterprise – even when it’s incubated – digital is going to require multiple product teams.

How do management lines work across those teams? Are the IT folks across product teams in the Digital IT organization and are they “managed” by Digital IT? Or are they managed by their Product Owner? In one sense, the answer seems obvious. On a day-to-day basis they are managed by their Product Owner. But who owns their career? What’s a career path like? How do Digital IT folks (or analysts) across product teams communicate? Who makes centralized decisions about key technology infrastructure? Who owns the customer?

Every one of these is a deep, important question with real ramifications for how the organization works and how you take a single product model and scale it into something that preserves the magic of the integrated team but adapts to the reality of the large, multi-function enterprise.

It was here, not surprisingly, that one of the participants in our DA Hub conversation trotted out the “dotted line”. Now it happened to be a consultant from a fellow big-4 and I (too glibly, I’m afraid) responded that “dotted lines are what consultants draw when they don’t have a good answer to a problem”.

I both regret and endorse this answer. I regret it because it was far too glib a response to what is, in one sense, probably the right answer. I endorse it because I think it’s true. God knows I’ve drawn these dotted lines before. When we draw a dotted line we essentially leave it up to the organization to organically figure out how it should work in day-to-day practice. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s probably the right answer in a lot of cases. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves that just because it might be the right answer that makes it a good answer. It’s not. It’s a “we’re not the right people at the right time to answer this question” kind of answer. Knowing enough to know you’re not the right people at the right time is a good thing, but it would be a mistake to confuse that with actually having a good answer to the question.

So here’s my best attempt at a non-dotted line organization that integrates Product Teams into a broader structure. It seems clear to me that you need some centralized capabilities within each function. For Digital IT, as an example, these centralized teams provide shared services including enterprise technology selection, key standards and data governance. In analytics, the centralized team will be responsible for the overall customer journey mapping, analytics technology selection and standardization, a centralized analytics warehouse, and standards around implementation and reporting.

How big and inclusive does the centralized team need to be? Thinking there’s one right answer to this question is a kind of disease akin to thinking there’s some right answer to questions like “how large should government be?” There isn’t. I tend to be in the “as small as practical” school when it comes to centralization – both politically and in the enterprise. The best IT, the best creative, the best analytics is done when it’s closest to the business – that means out there in those Product teams. That also means making sure you don’t incent your best people out of the product teams into centralized roles so that they can “advance” and make more money.

It used to drive me crazy to see good teachers promoted to administrative roles in schools. You can’t blame the teachers. When you’ve got a family to feed, a house to buy, a nice to car to own, you’re not going to stay a teacher when your only path to more money and prestige is becoming an assistant principal. But you don’t see the Cleveland Cavaliers promoting Lebron from player to coach. It’s a terrible mistake to confuse rank with value.

I’m a big believer in WIDE salary bands. One great developer is worth an army of offshore programmers and is likely worth more than the person managing them. Don’t force your best people to Peter Principle themselves into jobs they hate or suck at.

So instead of creating progressions from Product teams to central teams, I’d favor aggressive rotational policies. By rotating people into and out of those central teams, you ensure that central teams stay attuned to the needs of the Product teams where work is actually getting done. You also remove the career-path issues that often drive top talent to gravitate toward centralization.

Communications and collaboration is another tricky problem. Collaboration is one of the most under-invested capabilities in the organization and my Product team structure is going to make it harder to do well. For areas like analytics, though, it’s critical. Analysts need to communicate practices and learnings across – not just within – product teams. So I’d favor having at least one role (and maybe more) per area in the central team whose sole function is driving cross-team communication and sharing. This is one of those band-aids you slap on an organizational structure because it doesn’t do something important well. Every organizational structure will have at least a few of these.

In an ideal world, that collaboration function would probably always have at least two resource slots – and one of those slots would be rotated across different teams.

My final structure features highly integrated product teams that blend resources across every function needed to deliver a great digital experience. Those teams don’t dissolve and they don’t pass off products. They own not just the creation of a product, but its ongoing improvement. Almost needless to say, analytics (customer, behavioral and attitudinal) is embedded in that team right from the get-go and drives continuous improvement.

Those teams are supported by centralized groups organized by function (IT, Design, Analytics) that handle key support, integration and standardization tasks. These centralized teams are kept as small as is practical. Rotational policies are enforced so that people experience both centralized and product roles. Salary bands are kept very wide and the organization tries hard not to incent people out of roles at which they excel. Included in the centralized teams are roles designed to foster collaboration and communication between functional areas embedded in the product teams.

Finally, support functions like HR and Finance are mostly kept external. However, where compelling reasons exist to incubate them with digital, they are embedded in the central structure.

I won’t pretend this is the one right answer to digital organizational structure. Not only does it leave countless questions unanswered, but I’m sure it has many problems that make it fatally flawed in at least some organizations.

There are no final answers when it comes to organizational design. Every decision is a trade-off and every decision needs to be placed in the context of your organization history, culture and your specific people. That’s why you can’t get the right answer out of a book or a blog.

But if you’re building an incubated digital organization, I think there’s more right than wrong here. I’ve tried to keep the cop-outs and dotted lines to a minimum and focused on designing a structure that really will enable digital excellence. I don’t say deliver it, because that’s always up to the people. But if your Product Managers can’t deliver good digital experiences with this organization, at least you know it’s their fault.