{{ searchResult.published_at | date:'d MMMM yyyy' }}

Loading ...
Loading ...

Enter a search term such as “mobile analytics” or browse our content using the filters above.

No_results

That’s not only a poor Scrabble score but we also couldn’t find any results matching “”.
Check your spelling or try broadening your search.

Logo_distressed

Sorry about this, there is a problem with our search at the moment.
Please try again later.

Why is it that some companies embrace and succeed in digital, while others fail?

I am becoming convinced that the failure of a digital strategy often has little to do with the competence of their web team. It is more to do with the culture of the organisation itself.

You can have the best web team in the world who produce the best websites and apps, but if the organisation behind them is not digitally friendly then the results will be disappointing.

So what makes one company digitally friendly and another not? Below I outline my top ten reasons, but I would be keen to hear yours in the comments too.

Innovators

Digitally friendly companies are innovators. They embrace experimentation and actively seek out new opportunities.

This characteristic is more common among younger companies keen to capture market share. The more established the company the less likely they are to risk their current position by pushing into new areas.

Of course what these larger companies fail to realise is that digital has redefined the landscape and that in many cases their established position is no longer safe.

Unafraid to make mistakes

There is no fear of making mistakes. Instead mistakes are seen as a necessary part of the process. Employees are not punished for making a mistake and there is no culture of ass covering.

Take the employee handbook at software company Valve(pdf). It reads.

Nobody has ever been fired at Valve for making a mistake. It wouldn’t make sense for us to operate that way. Providing the freedom to fail is an important trait of the company— we couldn’t expect so much of individuals if we also penalized people for errors. Even expensive mistakes, or ones which result in a very public failure, are genuinely looked at as opportunities to learn.

They go on to say:

Screwing up is a great way to find out that your assumptions were wrong or that your model of the world was a little bit off. As long as you update your model and move forward with a better picture, you’re doing it right.

An iterative mentality

Traditional organisations prefer fixed price projects with a finite timescale. They perceive these as easier to manage and carrying less risk.

Although this belief may hold true in some areas of business, it does not when it comes to the web. Your digital strategy is never done, your website never complete.

When companies do try to carry out finite web projects they all too often lead to very expensive failures. Just look at the launch of Healthcare.gov.

healthcare.gov homepage Healthcare.gov is a great example of a large web project that was approached with the wrong mentality.

Flexibility

Like people, many older companies become set in their ways. Whether officially (through standard operating procedures) or unofficially (in the form of cultural norms) they are unwilling to adapt to changes in the landscape. As Dr Leroy Hood once wrote:

Bureaucracies are honed by the past and almost never can they deal effectively with the future.

This often means they try and crowbar new innovations into their existing structures. In the case of digital this means trying to fit it into their existing departmental structures. This often limits its potential.

For example, many organisations have placed digital within marketing. Unfortunately this means the web is often seen as nothing more than a marketing tool, when it could be so much more.

This is in stark contrast with digital friendly companies that often work with small adhoc working groups that are formed and disbanded as need requires.

Collaborative

The rigid departmental structures found in many organisations can seriously hamper the successful delivery of digital strategy. This is because successful digital implementation relies so heavily on collaboration between various skillsets across the organisation.

Unfortunately, instead of cooperating to deliver digital services, departments fight over control and come into conflict in an attempt to maintain their own thiefdoms.

In digitally friendly companies people from various parts of the organisation come together to solve specific problems, without being overly concerned with lines of reporting or company structure.

Fast moving

Because many organisations are used to a world where the cost of mistakes is high they tend to be cautious, with many checks and balances. There are committees, procedures and policies to ensure everything is perfect before committing.

Unfortunately these processes make many organisations slow moving. This is fatal in the fast moving world of the web. Just look at how Netflix outmanoeuvred Blockbusters. Blockbusters, when compared to Netflix, was too slow adapting to the new streaming opportunities.

Worse still is that these checks and balances are less necessary when mistakes can be corrected with relative ease.

Empowered workers

I am shocked how many organisations still treat their employees like they were unskilled workers operating on a factory floor. Micro-managing, monitoring performance and enforcing a rigid hierarchical structure, it is hardly surprising they are not getting the best from their web professionals.

Too often web professionals are treated as nothing more than implementors of senior managements ideas. Unfortunately when it comes to digital, senior management are rarely the most informed.

Compare this to more digitally progressive companies who empower their employees to make decisions. Not only does this get more from staff but also facilitates much faster decision making.

Investing in staff

Another sign of how many organisations perceive their employees is the poor level of investment they place into training.

Organisations hire digital workers for their expertise of what is a rapidly evolving medium, and yet fail to invest in keeping those skills up to date. It is hardly surprising that their digital offering fails to keep up with the competition.

Not that it is just their training that is neglected. I often encounter digital teams who do not have the right tools to do their job. Digitally friendly companies ensure their staff have the right working environment and equipment to ensure they can get the maximum productivity from their employees (not to mention ensuring they remain happy).

With such a high demand for good digital staff, investing in your staff is crucial to retain them over the long term.

Customer focused

One thing you will notice when visiting digitally friendly companies is there obsession with customers.

If you walk around Mailchimp you will see posters on the walls showing the personas of their different users. This is in stark contrast to many of the traditional businesses I visit. Their walls are covered with awards or photographs of their work and products.

One focuses on the customer, while the other is more concerned about itself. This is a metaphor for how these companies think. One is looking outside and the other in.

Successful digital companies always keep their eye on the end user. As they communicate online the emphasis is on the customers needs, rather than on promoting the company. They are more interested in talking about the customer than they are themselves.

This is a subtle, but crucial difference. Users have such high expectations of online service that taking your eye off of that ball will drive them away.

Digital by default

Finally, digitally successful companies turn first to digital for solutions. Where traditional businesses think of digital as an after thought, these companies see it as the first place to look for a solution.

Where there are services that are currently being delivered offline, they will look to move these services online in order to reduce costs, increase efficiency and better serve customers.

The British Government is a good example of this digital first thinking. It realised that moving 30% of government services online would save the tax payer £1.3 bn each year.

Digital isn’t always the right solution to a business challenge or opportunity, but digitally successful companies will always consider it first before turning to other approaches.

The lesson

Is this a complete list of all the characteristics of digitally successful companies? Absolutely not. Is the success of companies in the digital field down entirely to the way they are structured?

Again, no. But, what this list does tell us is that success in the digital arena is about a lot more than having a solid strategy and good staff. It’s about the culture of your organisation too.

That means, for some organisations, big changes will need to be made over the coming years.

Paul Boag

Published 20 January, 2014 by Paul Boag

Digital Strategist Paul Boag is the author of Digital Adaptation and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or his personal blog Boagworld.

28 more posts from this author

Comments (10)

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Avatar-blank-50x50

Alice

This was a brilliant article and I agree with the author wholeheartedly.

What it boils down to is giving staff responsibility and creating an environment where their voices are heard.

All the issues above are what I am experiencing in the business where I am currently working - the Digital piece is definitely an after thought. Employees are disgruntled - we are not fast moving and the opportunity to do so much more does not exist because company culture does not allow it.

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Emma

Great article! Good to be reassured that as an organisation we are a digitally friendly company! :)

Although we take an iterative approach to our projects, it is VERY difficult to get clients into that mindset!

over 2 years ago

Paul Boag

Paul Boag, Director at Headscape

Hi Alice and Emma. Both glad you liked the article. Most encouraging :)

Emma, I agree it can be difficult getting them to shift that mindset, but it is crucial. I suspect this will shift naturally over the next few years anyway.

over 2 years ago

Rob Mettler

Rob Mettler, Director of Digital Business at PA Consulting

A great article, echoes what we are seeing out in the market and the feedback we're getting from our online Digital Barometer. I think this is a major challenge for established organisations, for many it's a move from left to right brained thinking and a transition that challenges much of which proceeds it.

Such change has to be driven top down to ensure its advocated and supported all the way down to individuals performance and reward - which requires a mindset and capability shift in the boardroom, not an insubstantial task in itself.

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Charlotte

Great article, but am I missing something? Is there a link missing to the Healthcare.gov section? Or maybe I haven't picked up on something glaringly obvious :)

Also - now, how do I send this to my managers without pissing them off?

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Paul Boag

Hi Charlotte.
Sorry for the lack of link. I forgot to add it. However the URL healthcare.gov does work.

As for your boss. I am writing a book for him which is out in March - http://digital-adaptation.com

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Simon Swan

Great advice Paul. Totally agree on the point organisations need to embrace a digital culture from the top down. Getting sound experience in working for a start-up at some point in your career I believe provides the best hands-on experience in embracing a digital culture around:

◦Learning to think creatively - you're expected to think outside the box as there is no large marketing budget and marketing resource to call on.

◦Learn to fail - You can't stand still in a start-up and you'll develop a mindset to keep pushing yourself in trying different tactics and approaches.

◦Learn to Hustle - Building relationships and the art of negotiation are proven success factors and it's essential to have these skills to succeed.

◦Adapt your skillset - learn new digital approaches and create a broad understanding of different digital tactics.

We need more people with experience from start-ups working in a larger organisations to embrace agility, innovations, connections and getting things done.

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Russell O'Sullivan, Digital Marketing Manager at Roland UK

Hi James

Just found myself nodding over and over and every point.

Great piece and I think it really illustrates the companies that have "bought in digital" and think that they are now digital because of a few staff, whereas to truly embrace it, you must change the internal culture and give over to what digital really means - fast flowing, agile, empowered employees, mistakes, great staff training to keep them ahead of the curve and ultimately the "end user focus", without understanding the customers and relating to them then the "old" Ad Men marketing comes into play.

Changing the internal culture in its approach to digital is crucial for most companies to grow, with the amount of customers migrating online its time to really build, implement and believe in Digital Strategy!

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

Russell O'Sullivan, Digital Marketing Manager at Roland UK

Oops... typo by me... Was supposed to say Hi Paul.. thats what happens when you are commenting on two things at once... *hangs head in shame

over 2 years ago

Avatar-blank-50x50

The User Champ

What about beards? You forgot beards.

over 2 years ago

Comment
No-profile-pic
Save or Cancel
Daily_pulse_signup_wide

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Daily Pulse newsletter. Each weekday, you ll receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.