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  • Gareth Morgan

Is the ‘treacle’ of middle management holding your business back?

Digital transformation, and how to do it well

Do you keep making the same mistakes when trying to make your business fit for the connected age? Do you struggle to persuade colleagues about the value of digital?

Don’t worry, you are not alone. And the experts are on hand to help every step of the way. Marketing and comms recruitment firm Hanson Search hosted a panel discussion.

In case you missed it, here are the highlights…

The Hanson Search expert panel debate digital transformation

What is digital transformation?

Moderator Mark Burrett, Associate Director with Hanson, asked what is digital transformation and how we can “make you comfortable about being uncomfortable”.

This is a challenge for all businesses, whether a multinational, SME, or one-man band. And it is one faced daily by Natalia Kotova, digital lead at Thomson Reuters.

The Director of Digital Product explained: “Digital transformation is not about a new website, it’s not about digital marketing, it is transformation of the whole business.

“It changes how we market, it changes how we price our product, it changes how we deal with the back end, it changes how we support our customers.

“It goes into every aspect of our business…it doesn’t HAVE to be online. It could be human interactions.

“It is about enabling and empowering people, throughout the organisation to use different ways, and different tools, to better serve their customers.”

But while we have all been talking about digital transformation for years, this approach to it is something new entirely.

Gregor Young, BT’s Head of Digital Brand, said: “Ten years ago it was all about cost transformation. And it was controlled by the CFO.

“Digital transformation then was self serving. It was about saving money, or making things faster. Now digital transformation is about changing the mindset.”

How do I start the process of digital transformation?

For Alex Horstmann, who cut his teeth working with big brands and now works with start ups, the digital transformation journey begins and ends with your customer needs.

Spotahome’s Director of Product Design said: “I always start with fully understanding the drivers of customer behaviour. How they behave is driven by their goals.

“What they are trying to achieve across the whole customer journey. You map that across the full customer journey.

“Then ask yourself: How are we serving those needs? How should we be doing that? And how can digital allow us to better serve their needs?

“I go about building a business case across the customer journey. Where those areas are that we should be focussing first.

“Then I build a great team and execute. Realise business value as early as possible.”

BT enjoys revenues of around £24billion-a-year, but Gregor insists that the same processes they use still apply to small business.

He said: “As a small organisation, you have to pick and choose. It is about picking off and prioritising. Keep working through, and fixing things. And constantly improving, improving.”

How do I get my workmates onboard with digital transformation?

To ensure successful digital transformation, it is essential to carry the whole team with you. The experts agree you should leave no one behind.

Natalia said: “It is not just the technology, it is the mindset and workplace culture…Technology enables us to move fast and give insights into the customer behaviour.

“But it is still about the mindset. And it is important to invite people working with you on that journey, rather than just saying,, ‘hey, we are changing our ways.’

“Inflicting change always meets resistance. What is important – and what works – is to start small and find people who will get it. People who will go on this journey.

“Start small. Demonstrate change and practical outcomes. And then more people will join and see it is good. Then every part of the organisation will value digital.”

Subhash Mishra, Director of Digital Strategy at transport giants FirstGroup Plc, warned: “There is the risk of a silo mentality.

“A successful digital business requires lots of different teams to work together. Each department needs to understand their role.

“If it is down to the digital team alone to drive change, it is not going to work. You can’t have any passengers. You don’t want anyone to say ‘I wasn’t consulted’, or ‘it’s not my job’.”

Why the can-do mindset begins at the top

Strong, knowledgable management is vital to build an effective digital business. A boss’ enthusiasm is infectious and inspires the entire workforce.

Alex explained: “We often underestimate the need for a vision that comes from the top. That says this is where we are going. We might not get there tomorrow, but this is what we are aiming for.

“Then everyone in the organisation has to feel that the work they are doing is contributing to that vision. People want to feel they are a part of making something better.

He added: “Where I have seen things fail is where it is ONLY a bottom-up approach.

“The big business digital companies do very well because they have an emblematic leader who is driving towards a common purpose.”

Gregor agreed: “It is frustrating when you build an amazing tool that will transform jobs and people just don’t use it.

“What I have seen crack that is strong leadership. But sometimes that is lacking, because the knowledge and expertise just isn’t there.”

He continued: “I would say this of my organisation, a lot of the decision makers are not digital natives. They are people that are not entirely comfortable with it.

“Some of it might be down to demographics…but it is not only an age thing. It is just people who haven’t adapted.

“That will change. People are using digital in their personal lives and bringing that into their work.”

Don't let your digital dreams get stuck in treacle

Now, is your business ready to take risks?

Making a success of digital transformation involves taking risks. It requires long term thinking. And it needs everyone in the company to be on board.

The experts agree that inertia and fear by tech-dodging middle management can prevent your team from making great things happen.

Gregor said: “A number of times I have gone in to the board and asked investment and I was rarely disappointed. But it often took years to come into effect.

“The treacle of middle management doesn’t help.

“They will challenge immediately and say, ‘Where is the data?’ But you don’t always have the data for every single thing.

“It’s about winning hearts and minds. Giving the senior managers the detail and the real reason to believe.”

Natalia added: “You need to let people play. But you need to give them a safe environment where people feel free and safe. Where it is okay to fail.”

Alex concluded: “There is a misnomer that innovation has to something big. But innovation can be small, incremental. As long as the customer feels something has changed.

“Encouraging small levels of innovation can quickly see the culture of risk-taking and being more brave in what you do.”

So now you’re ready for your business to risk the next step towards true digital transformation, don’t be scared. We’re here to help.

Call GLUBALL for today for expert advice and insight.

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