Build a Digital Ecology–Promote IT Collaboration Across Your Organization
We need another term for “digital transformation.” It sounds instantaneous—as if you could type a few commands and new software would magically turn your organization into a super-powered generator of member engagement and delight.
If only it were that simple. Real “transformation” requires a commitment that goes beyond updated equipment. Becoming a digital organization means infusing technology into your association’s ecosystem.
It involves reinventing work processes, improving channels of communication, and asking your staff to imagine their roles and responsibilities differently.
This is a tall order—however, to maximize the impact of your investment these fundamental changes are necessary. Taking the right approach can go a long way to helping your team ease into this new style of operating.
“Integration” is a word that I use frequently when I’m helping clients with digital initiatives. It’s a professional way of saying bust the silos. Remove the barriers that compartmentalize strategy and keep your talent from being a real team. To become a digital business everyone in the organization must use their IT tools to collaborate. Here are several suggestions to help accomplish that goal.
It may be challenging for “buttoned-up” organizations, where people are in the habit of “following rules,” to introduce a more casual attitude. But digital markets revolve around reinvention. Electronic tools are made for sharing and invite users to be curious and experiment.
“IT is not my thing” is a demon that has to die. The CEO must be the white knight who slays that dragon wherever and whenever it rears its ugly head. Integrating IT into the organization’s strategy and culture should be the new reality. Every employee must have a stake in that vision. Executives who defer this responsibility convey the idea that digital thinking and collaboration are not a priority.
Bill Bruce, CEO of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, gives this advice. “I try to be very clear that no one is exempt from learning and mastering new skills.” In Bill’s eyes, professional growth has nothing to do with age or experience. “To be successful,” he notes, “you have to be open to lifelong learning. It’s a choice.”
Help teams to feel comfortable with unfamiliar processes and learn to put a toe in the water of calculated risks by encouraging a culture where learning is valued and missteps, that occur in the process, are tolerated. Recognize and reward successful ventures and consider less-than-stellar results opportunities for discovery.
The IT Department can’t be an island. Whether there is an army of geeks or a lone individual holding up the electronic sky, IT professionals need to look outward. Understanding how other departments operate and empathizing with their needs is fundamental to making systems work effectively and creating buy-in. This kind of outreach is time-consuming. That’s probably why, in smaller organizations, staffers sometimes remain isolated.
Engaging employees from across the organization in IT initiatives is the best way to encourage sharing and digital partnership. Identify staffers who can be your IT ambassadors and fill these significant roles:
Strategists are the visionaries, facilitators, and problem-solvers who inspire curiosity throughout the organization. Make them responsible for understanding technology trends inside the association industry and across the business spectrum. Task them with staying abreast of new developments that improve products, services, and customer-centricity.
Strategists should understand the organization’s goals and be able to redesign work for improved outcomes. Appoint relationship builders who make new work configurations and bridging departments exciting and meaningful.
Innovators are the rule-breakers and disrupters who see beyond the status quo. They sweep away old thinking and stimulate curiosity. Innovators are always on the lookout for new business opportunities. They should be role models who inspire colleagues to see from a different perspective. Innovators and strategists complement each other’s skills and can work together to make the leap from ideas to processes.
Drivers are the pragmatists who keep the strategists and innovators on task. Drivers should be knowledgeable about resources and have the skills to manage projects, develop budgets, create timelines, and communicate progress to stakeholders. They should be agile thinkers who can act quickly and are not challenged by a change in direction.
These roles need not be filled by the management team. Serving as an IT ambassador is a great professional development opportunity for more junior staff. But be sure to pick representatives who are already respected by their peers and who have demonstrated leadership potential.
The ambassadors’ responsibilities can be configured in multiple ways with the long-term goal of keeping digital knowledge flowing and expanding across your organization.
Designate both casual and more formal times and places for IT ambassadors to share information about their activities. And don’t overlook the power of social events and team-building exercises to cement relationships. Recreational activities allow groups to practice working together in a fun setting and celebrate accomplishments.
After you’ve identified the people to set collaboration in motion, give them a runway for success. Start with small, manageable projects that are impactful without being highly visible. Let your ambassadors develop confidence and credibility before you ask them to be influencers.
Whether the project is automating a manual process or improving user experience, clearly communicate the goals and expected outcomes. Provide adequate funding and an appropriate timeline. Then, check in along the way. Don’t leave the newbies hanging by a limb. Offer support to run interference or troubleshoot challenges.
Kevin Ordonez, .orgSource President and Managing Director of Digital Strategy, made this observation. “Fear of failure keeps employees from innovating. They’re afraid that if they try something new and it doesn’t work, there will be negative consequences. I suggest starting small with the goal of learning. Put a chatbot on your website or implement an AI newsletter. Don’t spend months deciding what to do. Test and evaluate as you move ahead.”
I can’t over-emphasize the importance of training. Purchasing new equipment without building in the resources for everyone in the organization to become proficient users is inviting people to opt-out. I am not a fan of employees training each other unless you can shift responsibilities to ensure that people have the capacity to take on a teaching role.
The best instruction is probably going to come from the experts who are most familiar with the product, i.e. the vendor. Offer incentives for learning and recognize and reward the power users.
Digital transformation is never going to happen with the click of a switch. But by keeping the focus on people and collaborative learning you will develop the competencies to build a strong IT ecology.
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