Driving change and thriving in turbulent times

Last week we were joined by an invited group of C-level leaders to discuss the lessons they have learned from facing, and embracing, change in the digital age. Attendees from brands including Universal Pictures, Microsoft, The Economist, Unilever, TSB, Tata Communications, Pentland Group and Telefónica shared their challenges and triumphs.

Don’t call it change! Don’t sound the alarm.

The perception of change is often negative – but why? Change is challenging, but periods of adversity can be good and lead to resilient leaders and teams. Leaders need to find solutions which alleviate the fear and inspire team synergy towards the transformation of the organisation. Calling out the resistance to change can help, as can uniting the company towards a common, tangible goal.

We need to acknowledge that change is perpetual. Traditionally, large organisations existed to minimise change and promote stability – the career ladders of previous generations relied upon fixed structures and clear paths to promotion. Some leaders still get to a point where they think ‘the change’ is over, but in our reality there’s no ‘the’ – change is an ongoing state. Companies of the future need to be designed, and redesigned, to change and evolve without losing valuable employees. The people could stay the same whilst the whole company reorganised.

Leaders now need to recognise that stasis is the enemy, not change.

Middle management can be a blocker to change.

The challenge for companies today is how to motivate their people to embrace and support development and change. Middle management can feel exposed, often they haven’t grown up with digital – and they’re not the leaders with the brief for transformation.

The internal facing work needs to be done before you can begin working on your customer facing challenges.

How do you take your peers on that journey?

Being open and honest with colleagues about motivations and challenges can be helpful. Within large organisations there are often empires and rivalries that have existed for a long time – and may have been encouraged by leadership in a misguided attempt to promote performance.

To move away from these siloed ways of working towards a culture of collaboration, the fundamental structures – including performance reviews and incentives – need to change. For example, technology companies were often structured to encourage developers to compete to create the best work. As the companies scaled those ways of working became damaging.

The outside world is changing much faster than the inside of the company.

When a new team member starts and is introduced to an intranet that isn’t mobile first, the company is immediately at a disadvantage. Rethinking internal and team communications – for example moving away from email to platforms such as Slack – can have huge benefits.

But the key to transformation is a mindset change, not a technical solution. Adapt all tools to the needs of the users, never accept the defaults, turn all of the notifications off, work out how it fits into your teams.

It’s not about becoming Facebook

The tech company mantras, such as ‘done is better than perfect’, aren’t applicable in all industries. Sometimes the safety and security of consumers requires attention to detail and thorough testing. Culture is necessarily linked to the nature of the organisation, and one size most definitely does not fit all. It’s absolutely critical to nurture a culture that’s right for you.

At Dots 2015 Christina Scott, then CIO of the Financial Times, was very frank about the challenges of change at the organisation. The FT had a reputation, and a vision in the C-suite, of being innovative and digital but this belief wasn’t felt across the business. One tactic used was banning board members from going to project meetings – which allowed people to feel comfortable enough to speak freely and take more risks.

Are your KPIs really key?

There’s no point in obsessing over metrics if they aren’t bringing you closer to your goal.

Traditional data points aren’t useful anymore, and the obsession with social media metrics can be a smokescreen. If you can’t measure intent to purchase and sales then you won’t know if your content is actually driving your business goals.

In some industries audiences have moved on from Twitter, conversations on Snapchat are difficult to measure and Facebook has been criticised for a lack of transparency.

You might have identified your potential audience, but are they likely to buy from you? Do you know enough about their habits and day-to-day life?

The relationship between data and change

Data can be the marketing team’s secret weapon. Convincing a creative director that a movie trailer needs to look as effective on a phone as it does on a cinema screen, or a package as alluring in an Ocado thumbnail as on a supermarket shelf, can be difficult. However, the data on views, uses or purchases can underline these potentially emotional debates with clear metrics.

In the majority of cases consumers are going to be experiencing brand communications mobile-first – some organisations have adopted a ‘no mobile, no meeting’ policy. This shift in focus from creative that looks good in a board room to creative designed to sit in the consumer’s hand is key.

If your views are 70% mobile, should 70% of the budget go on mobile?

Often seemingly conflicting formats have requirements that align around the needs of the customer. A YouTube ad has 3 seconds to grab the viewer’s attention – but a television commercial has a similar length of time before you shift attention from the screen (and probably to the smaller one in your pocket).

The customer is dictating what they want to see and the only real path to success is an unrelenting focus on their needs.

To talk to us about your transformation challenges, get in touch.


Reading that inspired the debate: