Digital as code for culture change

Burke Turner

The 6th meeting of the Professional Bodies Digital Leadership Summit brought together 17 delegates from 14 organisations in May 2016 to discuss the topic (under the Chatham House Rule); Digital as code for culture change.

This record is a distillation of a selection of the candid discussion, and is not intended to be absolute, nor arrive at an outcome. This capture is for the benefit of those who were unable to attend, and as a thank you to those who did attend and who shared their experience of leading change at their respective organisations.

For more information on Atmosphere’s program of events, please contact Kseniia Plotnikova kseniia.plotnikova@weareatmosphere.com and be sure to subscribe for occasional updates from the Atmosphere team.

Our host on this occasion was the Institution of Civil Engineers. We were welcomed into the ICE Library, a stunning and stately 200 year old room, walls lined with books. This beautiful room represented the accumulation of knowledge for the industry and is a cornerstone of the world’s first professional engineering body, having been formed in a coffee shop by 3 young engineers in 1818. As a timely stroke of symbolism, the library itself set the context for the discussion that would follow. Functioning as a temporary art gallery, the library was hosting a beautiful collection of photographs under The River People Collectionexposing human stories that are part of, or will be impacted by, large engineering projects involving the River Thames.

A reminder that as an institute infers the subject as focus, so the institution represents people. An institution commands that people are the focus, similarly the exhibition shines a light on the faces and the hopes of the people behind the projects, and not the forms of steel and concrete within the project itself.

The delegates enjoyed a spirited retelling of our host’s experience of digital transformation over the past year, including the power of early victories, the underlying questions demanding the change and the all important lessons learnt. With the delegates rising from their seats and touring the adjacent Great Hall, the symbolism continued.

We learned that UNESCO had roots in the ICE Great Hall (although most would recognise the hall from a ballroom scene in the film, Bridget Jones’ Diary). The ceiling fresco captured a real energy and heroism, as did the names chiseled into the stone throughout the building. The walls proudly wear names such as Smeaton, Telford, Redmayne, Bazalgette and Brunel that (quite literally) played their part in building the modern world. The feeling of being in the space was palpable; a reminder that engineering is a human endeavour more than it is a technical problem to solve.

How do we capture the energy in this room with our digital space?

Just as the fresco tells a story of the people, institution and the profession using a medium of the day, so too must the digital presence of today’s organisation contribute to the story of the human endeavour that is being undertaken.

The challenge lies in telling a story that reflects the rate of change driven by technology and the ‘digital first’ culture effectively being forced upon us as incumbent organisations with considerable organisational inertia. The next generation are not at all captured by context as we are; they are effectively a blank canvas who see the world in a different way. The anecdote of a daughter who believes she will not ever need to drive a car is followed by another of a son who believes there will be no need for roads (as everything will be hovering).

What does cultural shift mean and how to use digital to help us?

Membership has largely relied on the institution as the custodian of knowledge (see the walls of the library covered in books). However, the requirement has changed; today’s institution needs to be the curator, the filter, the matchmaker of need and knowledge.

Take an old website, throw money at it and you get a new website that’s shinier but still fails to deliver what’s needed. Often we do this because we have failed to understand & adjust the existing culture of the business, and the gap towards a digitally enabled business, focusing instead on outward ‘stuff’.

Similarly, was the race to get a presence on social media. Now that most of us are here and amassing a following, how much are we riding on the coattail of the meteoric rise of social media rather than stopping to understand the culture and communication paradigm first? What does the expectation of near instant response mean for an institution that is geared for ‘slow’ information like white-papers, journals, textbooks, accreditation and committee? The challenge is in moving to a position of improved communication without first having a better understanding of digital. Too often we are in a hurry to do the ‘stuff’ without understanding the human reasoning behind it.

What’s in a website?

Lifelong learning, thought leadership, stewarding and enabling the profession to develop well into the future; too often an organisation’s website is geared towards giving members what they want not what they need. With an imbalanced outward focus, many websites will be providing what we think we need, and not what our customers need. Sometimes an apt description of a corporate website is ‘a shed full of stuff’. It is an understandable position that many of us have gotten to with our website as part of our digital presence within an emerging digital strategy.

We draw focus to the behaviour that embodies the concept of ‘digital as code for culture change.’

We have to do some stuff - we need to make some mistakes to learn

It’s critical to not be thrown by the word digital. The goal is not to automate/synchronise/digitise/futurise/insertbuzzword everything. Technology is not the panacea. The goal is to leverage the capabilities that come with new technology to better connect with an audience who are already living in, with, on and through this new space. By doing this we are demonstrating digital behaviours. If we are to remain relevant, we can’t afford to rely on trustees and committees to debate and debate and debate, although that is not to say that this function has lost it’s merit, far from it. At the pace of digital it’s ok to try something and to learn from the experience. Digital is absolutely part of the cultural change story.

Digital will save us!

Are we guilty of using ‘digital’ to form the business case to start some activity? More of the aforementioned ‘stuff’?  Digital behaviour is not about doing things digitally, it’s about shifting mindset and workplace culture to see the opportunity. Leveraging the ability to segment by psychology and continue to evolve the user experience. For example, with an aging membership, what’s the point of creating and imposing a digital model for a bunch of people who genuinely love books?! Cultural change programs have been passed to HR, incorrectly in our view given the need for a more holistic approach. It gets truly exciting when the skills of HR are empowered with the capabilities of technology (IS&T) in a decided strategic shift (Strategy Director) in the organisations chosen ways of working.

Challenging our assumptions and our current behaviour

A wonderful point was raised to reframe all that is new and ‘digital’. When the phone was invented, did we phone our members constantly? Why do we treat them like this now with email communications? With email the mainstay of most CRM programs, the core is increasingly intrusive and tiring often with diminishing returns. Barely 2 days goes by for many of our members without some form of outbound communications.

Members simply don’t want to receive copious amounts of information on their smartphone, rather they want to know that it is both there and retrievable. As consumers we all live in this (digital) world with our networking, news, customer support, even our grocery shopping is largely facilitated through digital channels. But the offer from my professional body is… less than ideal. How does the digital presence make us feel? How does it compare to the impact of walking into the library? Into the great hall?

How do we control the experience? Is an email from Sainsbury’s that different to an email from Gucci? Walk into the ICE library or into a Gucci store and the intangible value is high. Not quite there in our email communications.. Here a reference was made to Polanyi’s Paradox - we know more than we can tell. We own so much knowledge and so much information, the wealth of experience in the trustees and committees, let alone the combined knowledge of the membership.

People want informationwhen they need it, not should they ever need it.

First understand the need, understand how to deliver against that; both in content and context. Whatever process that already exists can be digitised, but it also has to be humanised. This represents an additional challenge:

Google is getting better faster than we are.

As AI increases and the sheer volume of archived content gets released, the role of curation will need to deliver greater value in selection and presentation of content, and less connected to the act of finding the content. Just providing the information does not equate to value or caring for the membership. Balance is required. Is it dangerous to assume that our members want such an in-depth relationship with our digital assets? It returns again to customised experience; at times a member will want to get in, find what they need, get out and get on with their day.

What is the most human interaction a member can have with their professional body? Many membership organisations have a library, where some of the most helpful, wonderful and professional people who understand both the collection and the right combination of resources to respond to a member’s request for information can be found. While not necessarily subject matter experts, they are often experts in the subject of the subject matter itself! ("Yes we have that volume, but I suggest you also read this which was published last year, and I'll pull together some notes from the latest trade journals for you by this afternoon.")  As the caring face of the institution, an anecdote was shared that, such was their trust, their remit occasionally extended to that of marriage counsellor for the membership. Again, the digital presence fails to capture that same expression of caring for the membership. Yes, we can customise our emails, but once the member clicks through it’s often “who are you, where do you work, what do you want?”

Getting a proposition digitally enabled for self service (if that is what the member wants) allows digital to truly get out of the way. Meanwhile, how well do we signpost people in our organisation who can help people? Allowing our best talent and most human aspect to expand their reach is another problem that will be solved by leveraging digital behaviour. While perhaps the vast majority of membership are ok with just knowing that the institution is there, change to scale the human connection further demonstrates the relevancy of the organisation for the future of the profession. When done correctly, digital is the key to creating the sense of belonging; in one case a professional body had such a global membership they had sold their HQ.

Digital as code for culture change

  • Digital as an enabler first
  • There is no 1 answer to communication
  • Start simple, don’t be distracted by feature creep, digital should make things simpler
  • Shift to knowledge share and away from knowledge holder
  • Digital culture allows us todemonstrate our value
  • Digital tools are working best when they get ‘out of the way’ to facilitate a more human and tailored experience wherever possible

With knowledge, the more you share it, the more power it has.

So too as with digital, the more it is out of the way, the more human it can be.

The Professional Bodies Digital Leadership Summit will convene on the following dates in 2016;

Friday July 22
Friday Sep 16
Friday Nov 18
To learn more about Atmosphere, the Professional Bodies Digital Leadership Summit, or our program of events, feel free to contact us and remember to subscribe for occasional updates.

This post was written by Burke Turner, Digital Workplace Consultant for Atmosphere
Thanks to the delegates for their candid contribution to this content, and for the ICE for hosting on this occasion.

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