One of the hot topics at work over the last few months is – how do we become more digital?
I’m sure the same conversation is taking place at all the major companies around the United States / world – how do we become much more relevant to an increasingly digital demographic? A lot of times these questions are being asked by senior executives who have developed this fear of being “left behind” by the digital transformation that’s taking place around them – what I say to you is, digitizing yourself isn’t scary! It can be fun and rewarding, and it’s easy to get started.
You can write a whole blog (heck, an entire book) around the idea of “becoming digital”, but here are three things off the top of my head that I always tell people:
1. Get immersed – Don’t know how to use Twitter, Facebook, or Foursquare? Why not just sign-up? The best way to learn is to actually start using these services. People have told me, “I’m too old for Twitter”, “I don’t get Foursquare, why are people using it?”… etc. – what I always say to them is, social media doesn’t have to be scary, and you are not so old that you don’t know how to use a computer right? When I hear stories of old grandparents on Twitter/Facebook, it’s almost no excuse that anyone should find these sites challenging. Also – how are you supposed to really understand and create convincing user experience if you don’t know how things work? One of my biggest pet peeves have always been people saying “oh we need to do this for the iPhone”, or “what’s our social media strategy”, when you’re holding a Blackberry and aren’t active on any social networks – shame on you, you’re never going to be able to execute a successful campaign/partnership/product behaving like that. If you’re doing something with Facebook, I want to see you on Facebook throwing cows at one another!
2. Hire digital talent – This is more for people leaders. Don’t have the technical expertise? Hire the right people! Hiring smart people is just good practice – hiring good digital folks will give you an edge on the competition. For me, the most awesome role an leader can play is to clear obstacles for their teams – there are just so many organization obstacles that need to be taken down, it would be great to have someone to help clear the way and allow the digital talents you’ve hired to, well, focus on digital initiatives (and the transformation of the company!)
3. Encourage risk-taking in company culture – I find this subject particularly interesting. We’ve always being taught, more risk = higher return – but this doesn’t apply to most major corporations – large companies like to play it safe and take the easy way out when designing products / executing campaigns. What I say to these companies is, when more technical companies begin to move into your marketplace, that has a leg-up on this “digital transformation”, when you are competing with the likes of Google and Apple, the wait-and-see approach is no longer adequate.
The Financial industry is a good example. For the longest time, there are stable players that you can count on – Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, etc – but then comes along the likes of PayPal to disrupt the industry, and most recently the announcement of multiple mobile-wallet initiatives from the likes of Google that’s aiming to bite off more of the pie. When your competitors change from other card companies to technology companies, in this period of digital transformation, isn’t it time to adopt the same approach that these companies are taking when it comes to risk-taking?
If you look at products put out by Google in the last few years, there’s actually a giant list of products that Google end up shutting down because the product either 1. sucked (Buzz), or 2. too early for its time (Wave, anyone?). Did these failed product launches negatively impact the Google brand in anyway? I don’t think it did, at least not as much as people would have you believe. There’s a natural inclination for people to accept failures from companies like Google (and start-ups?), because the process is open and transparent. People understand that these companies will continue to innovate and come out with new products – and it’s only expected that of all the ones that come out, a few will end up in the fail category.
There’s little stigma attached to failing – and that’s something a lot of major organizations today don’t do so well. In most companies, failing carries with it a negative connotation. There is no incentive in place for people to take risks, for the good of the organization. When risk-taking is not rewarded or even discouraged, of course your employees will seek the easy/safe way out to ensure their long-term prospect with the company. When you are trying to make your products / services more digital-oriented, this is a dangerous, complacent approach – slow reaction = automatic failure in my book.
Here are a few things I would love to see from people in these digitally transforming organizations (both from leaders / employees):
- Commitment from senior leadership. Communicate and encourage risk-taking. Google’s 80/20 rule is awesome – put that in place if it make sense. Leaders need to signal the attitude to take risk, and let people know that they will not be punished for launching a failed product. This means changing the rating systems and compensation structures to encourage risk-taking and minimize the impact that unsuccessful product launches have on your compensation. Most importantly – be supportive / receptive / champions of ideas; surely these ideas still need to ground themselves in sound financials, etc, but keep an open mind.
- Don’t let the brand weigh you down. Some people are worried about the brand implication of taking these drastic steps in digitizing the brand – I believe as long as you’re open in your communication with your shareholders (“we will be doing ___ to take advantage of ___ etc”), the shareholder will be fine with that, even rewarding you for willing to take the initiative.
- Take initiative in your everyday job. This is a call-out to everyone. You can make a difference! People become complacent sometimes because they want a safe and steady job – I say, where’s the fun in that? Be willing to take a little risk and bring yourself out of your comfort zone. We live in a special time right now where each one of us have a chance to make a mark during this period of digital transformation for products/services.
What do you think? How do your organizations deal with your digital transformations? How are they encouraging/discouraging risk-taking?