Last week at Econsultancy London we held a roundtable discussion with some HR and L&D folks. The topic was digital business…GO!

Of course, it was Chatham House rules, but I thought I’d sum up some discussion points and some potential glints of light at the end of the tunnel, for big orgs seeking that holy grail, ‘Digital Transformation’.

Each business has different challenges and needs, but some of the following issues struck a chord.

A pipeline workforce, fit for future

Recruitment is important but often doesn’t feel as important as retention.

Retention schemes and clear career maps are increasingly needed and implemented by organisations who don’t want to lose a key member of staff after two years, as they move to agency land or a consultancy.

Competency frameworks can become outdated. In digital roles, the review cycle of any particular role may have to be shorter than your org’s standards, to ensure competency is checked regularly enough.

Care should be taken, however, to keep these cycles manageable. 


HR digital insiders

At the root of many challenges for HR and L&D may be that HR staff lack understanding of digital roles. A catch-22 situation almost.

One of the roundtable attendees had started life at their company as a PPC exec, and moved into L&D. This gave them a good understanding of digital job roles, and advanced knowledge sharing within the organisation. 

The honesty problem

Nope, not a rubbish film with Sandra Bullock in it, rather the tendency of people to bend the truth a little when performing self-assessment (required to find the perceived knowledge base in an organisation).

The difficulty of sending a self assessment around your marketing department is that nobody wants to look less enlightened than their colleagues. That’s not to say that assessments can’t be carried out accurately, and used to good effect for business change.

The cultural aspect of change means it’s unwise to self-assess skills without context. Looking at business capability, staff skills assessments, competency framework reviews, combined with training and awareness, will help to maintain a transparent agenda.

Only when staff feel the journey is one of change for organisation, as well as workforce, can anxiety be dispersed.

The grad grab

The challenge, as it stands, is to go out and grab digital natives. These are the digitally savvy people who aren’t necessarily skilled in programming, analytics, copywriting etc, but are comfortable online and with multiple platforms and devices.

How fit is your HR department, for recognising these people? And, providing you can find these helpful people, is it easy enough to train them in digital marketing and media buying?

This was a challenge voiced by agencies and client-side organisations, with recognition that the already established digital practitioners are in short supply and demanding higher wages.

Org design

Some companies have been pioneering the centre of excellence model, but are unsure if knowledge has efficiently ‘bled out’ into teams.

Many organisations are seeing the benefits of the ‘dandelion’ or ‘hub and spoke’ org structure. But how practical is this if your organisation is having trouble recruiting the right staff?


Training, awareness, inspiration

People enjoy learning about departments other than their own.

One agency had implemented:

  • Staff to go through decoded.
  • Inspiration sessions.
  • ‘Digischool’ with homework; a blow softened by beer and pizza. Working on actual briefs together.
  • Inspiration week (again, with wine…).
  • Away days.
  • Everyone in the company is AdWords certified.

Obviously this is easier for an agency to achieve, as it impacts directly on client wins. Most people in an agency are directly using digital skills, and there’ll be more budget for these kinds of sessions.

However, speakers will often deliver inspiration sessions for brands for free, and budget shouldn’t be thought of as prohibitive for a speaker.

Culture is an integral part of any organisational change. Mentors can be used to help keep staff in the process of improving. Mentoring may be effective in skilling up senior staff and even board members, if this is seen as necessary for getting the right message trickled down from on high.

Staff can feel threatened

There are many examples here. For example, writing for the web is much different to old-school copywriting in many industries. Some staff can feel daunted by the need for new expertise.

Call centres, for example, may feel threatened, as web contact and social media invade their departments. Semantics play an important part here – changing to the ‘contact’ centre rather than ‘call’ centre.

Digital can make a call centre job more important and more interesting.

If threatened, non digital natives are surprisingly ready for the fight. People have seen the demise of the record industry, for example, and parts of the high street.

In turn, they know that resistance to change is futile, and converting to digital is often a survival requirement. 

Hands-off approach?

To some extent, objectives can be achieved, or progress made, by setting targets and relevant KPIs for your business, for example to have X % of business online by 20XX.

When these targets are set, putting the right KPI on the right dashboard, staff are enabled to ask ‘what have I got?’ and ‘where do I need to get to?’

One still has to recognise teams need support. An ‘adult-to-adult’ communication policy can be adopted to keep changes transparent, and to avoid panic.

Measuring impact

Maturity models can be used to assess how the business processes change over time.

How do we manage curation of knowledge?

IT needs to be used to help maintain organisational learning. Does your department have an area of your org’s intranet where everyone can curate knowledge?

Induction programmes need to make best use of organisational knowledge, enshrining best practice. 


What do we transform?

You might have stores, distribution centres, call centres and on. You might have intentionally siloed areas of your business, many marketing departments and stakeholder.

  • Are you transforming all areas of your business?
  • Do you train your marketing team or your entire workforce?
  • Do you train staff in areas of the business that aren’t necessarily transforming? 

There are distinct paths for different organisations to walk.

Some businesses characteristically have internal challenges. In this respect, the question is ‘How do we use digital to enhance and improve internal processes and communication?’ This is a challenge facing highly regulated organisations e.g. in financial services.

Is the IT. department playing its part in enabling staff? Governance can here be an unavoidable point of discussion, however dry it is perceived to be.

This change can be difficult with disparate parties wanting to input into the process. The presence of many partners and marketing departments makes for poor focus, especially if board level aren’t totemic ally leading the process.

Alternatively, change can be focused through the lens of the customer. If you are a retailer, it’s not doubted that a lot of the change is customer fronted – the trends for marketing across devices, experiential stores, social customer service etc.

The challenge here is making sure your staff know what the customer experience is across all your businesses new spaces in the market. 

Digital transformation is a journey that’s different for every organisation. Contact us if you’re interested in how we can help shape a comprehensive approach to your business’ change.