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“When it comes to the web, organizations are broken”, at least that is what Jonathan Kahn says in his A List Apart article and I have to say I agree with him. After all, you don’t have to look far to see there is a problem.

Most websites lack focus, let alone a consistent user experience or tone of voice. Social media rarely integrates well with the website and most organisations' mobile strategy consists of throwing some apps at the iOS app store.

Email is little better. In fact I am working with one charity client whose supporters may receive as many as 80 emails from them a month! This happens because there is no central control over emailing.

The nature of organisations is not compatible with the web

The reason for this chaos? Most organisations are just not compatible with the web. In many ways the web works in a completely opposite way to most organisations…

  • Most organisations work in departmental silos, while the web is cross disciplined.
  • Organisations are often internally focused while the web demands that we are user centric.
  • Organisations like projects with fixed budgets and specific end points. The web on the other hand is an ongoing investment.
  • The majority of organisations' approach to marketing is to broadcast their message. However, the web is about a dialogue with users.
  • Many organisations have thorough decision making processes to avoid mistakes, while the web demands a quick, agile and iterative decision making.

In short, most organisations pre-date the web and so are not equipped to handle the changes that digital has introduced. Instead they try to force the web into their current model, reducing it to little more than an online brochure. The web is never going to fulfil its potential in an organisation that does that.

If any of this rings a bell with you, it might leave you believing there is no hope for your organisation. Fortunately that is not true.

There is hope

You can’t get much larger and more bureaucratic than a government or higher education institution. However, both the GOV.UK and University of Surrey are great examples of organisations who have succeeded in changing their approach to better utilise the power of the web.

But, how exactly is this achieved? Well, different organisations take different approaches. Some, like the examples above call in outside experts to help with this digital transformation

Others achieve the same results at the grass roots level. As Jonathan goes on to point out in his List Apart post, this kind of grass roots change can start with anybody no matter how lowly they are within the organisation.

Educating senior management

Unfortunately, a lot of the time senior management don’t see there is a problem. They don’t know that the web can provide anymore business benefit than it already does. It therefore falls to those of us who know better to educate them.

I won’t claim that this is easy. However some approaches you might consider are:

  • Running workshops where you introduce others in your organisation to examples of best practice and success stories.
  • Building proof of concept pieces that demonstrate a better way.
  • Ask the questions that need to be asked. Ask questions about your web strategy, decision making processes and resourcing.
  • If answers are not forthcoming, start answering the questions yourself. Write your own objectives, policies and processes. Don’t wait for others.

In fact sometimes we are better taking a leaf out of Grace Hoppers book who famously said “ It is often easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.” If we wait for permission it will never come. Instead we need to be the instigators of change.

Ultimately Jonathan Kahn sums it up when he wrote:

It’s about pointing out risks, shining a light on organizational denial, overcoming resistance, and facilitating constructive discussions about change.

Paul Boag

Published 22 May, 2013 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

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