think digital: 10 principles

Increasingly, we're hearing the word 'digital' being bandied about. But what in practice do comms teams need to know? And how should they be thinking differently? 

by Dave Briggs

At various events and in various meetings lately, I have found myself saying the same things.

It’s all about thinking digital, and not just doing digital. It’s acknowledging that the real benefits of digital ways of doing things lie not just in the tools we use, but how we use them, and the attitude we bring to our work.

This is as true for communicators as it is for any other group. In fact, it’s hard to think of a profession more affected by the digital revolution of the last ten years than communications.

It’s not enough to use the internet to do what we were doing anyway. It’s about taking the time to think how the existence of this vast network impacts on the way we do everything.

My personal message is that this doesn’t have to be difficult, or painful. People talk a lot about disruption, but I find disruption is best avoided if you can. Much better to achieve a smooth transition to a new way of working.

Anyway, how do we think digital? I’ve distilled this down to ten main principles, which I outline below.

1. You need strategy, leadership and capability

  • To get your organisation thinking digitally, you need to have all three of these things in place.
  • Strategy sets the direction that everyone buys into and works towards.
  • Leadership provides the permission, the examples and the access that people need.
  • Capability spreads the mindset and skills to everyone who needs them.

2. Death of one size fits all

  • The days when a single solution works for everyone in every circumstance is over - if it ever existed.
  • Increasingly we see technology companies “unbundling” their services - breaking up single applications that deliver everything into distinct tools that do one thing well.
  • This is true for the services that all organisations offer. A single defined process or way of accessing a service cannot work for everyone and differentiation will be vital.
  • It is also true of the tools that people will use to do their work. One project management tool cannot suit every task or every person. So it’s pointless to mandate use of a single tool.

3. User need

  • Before any piece of work is started, ask the question of what the user need is. In whose interest is this project?
  • Too often things are done because it suits the organisation and its needs, without thinking about who is really benefiting.
  • If your users’ needs are not being met by a piece of work, you’ll probably be better off putting that effort into something else.

4. Should you be doing this?

  • Before any piece of work is started, ask the question of whether this is your, or your organisation’s, role to deliver this product or service.
  • Is someone else already doing it, or better placed to deliver it?
  • In an age of constraints, it’s important not to be spread too thinly. Don’t let pride get in the way of helping others to help you.

5. Start small

  • Organisations are facing massive challenges. They are daunting in their scale and complexity.
  • The answer is not to tackle them in their entirety, but to break them down to the minimum viable scale.
  • This will enable you to work faster, cheaper and deliver quickly. It will also significantly reduce the levels of risk involved.
  • Think what small actions you can take that could have a big impact.

6. Release early, release often

  • As Steve Jobs said, “real artists ship”. An idea is worth nothing if it doesn’t become reality.
  • By getting a product or service out quickly, you can learn from users whether you are doing the right thing, or where improvements can be made.
  • Better to know about your mistakes earlier than later. Especially if it means you need to be doing something completely different.

7. Hire the right people

  • Culture comes from the people in your organisation.
  • No vision, or strategy, or staff engagement exercise will have the same impact on your culture as hiring the right people in the first place.
  • Hire for attitude, not skills or experience. Both skills and experience can be learned. Not so with attitude.
  • What are the attitudes we are looking for? Curiosity, willingness to learn, cooperation, openness.

8. Manage by outcome

  • As well as hiring the right people, culture can be developed by the way those people are managed.
  • Managing by outcome means you leave you people alone to deliver by the means they choose. After all, they were appointed to do this job, so should have a good idea how to do it.
  • It means allowing people to work flexibly, from locations they choose, using tools that they choose.
  • Most importantly it means that you and your staff know and understand what their target outcomes actually are.

9. Collaboration is key

  • No organisation can do everything on its own. It needs to work with others, in a grown up way.
  • This means being open about capability and capacity. What can you bring to the party? Do you have the resources and time to do it properly?
  • Many partnerships involve organisations doing what they were doing anyway, separately, then meeting up to talk about it every so often.
  • That’s not collaborating.

10. Open wins

  • Openness is key to working in a digital environment.
  • Being honest and truthful with yourself, colleagues, customers and partners will save time, money and anguish in the long term.
  • Be open about where you are, what you are doing, what problems you are facing. Allow others to get involved and help out where they can.
  • The internet has a habit of routing around censorship. Don’t try and fight it, think digital and be open.
  • If you’d like to find out more, I’m running a free webinar on the topic on 28th July. You can sign up here.

Dave Briggs is director of Worksmart (Lincs) and has worked in central and local government specialising in  communications, policy, learning and development and digital. He is also chair of a parish council.

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