Do you understand your digital leadership shadow?

Marcus Druen

Digital Leadership is not just about apps, blogs and BYOD. At its core, it’s about your underlying mental models that drive your choices. Do you understand your digital leadership shadow?

In this post I show you that no matter how many experts you employ to break out of analogue corporate land and into the digital age, if your assumptions and beliefs are stuck in the analogue past, it will show in your products and company culture and everything else.

Let me illustrate this with an example far way from digital.  While consulting a global construction company a few years ago they concluded that “every fatality on site can be tracked back to a boardroom decision”. This insight came after years of investment improving safety equipment on site, training foremen, creating a health & safety centre of excellence and an expensive communications campaign. Yet despite all the focus and expense, the incidence of injury and death would not drop below a certain threshold. The last frontier was the board and as a result the members had to change their mental models from “less bad” to “zero harm”. This shift in mental model reduced the numbers significantly, although they never achieved zero.

Likewise, a bad digital customer experience can be traced back to the mind-set of the people with whom the buck stops.

A few weeks ago I was booking a train ticket with Deutsche Bahn (Germany’s privatised monopoly provider) and here is the forensic account of the most bizarre, annoying and exposing digital customer experience I have had since 1999:

  • The booking site has a poor layout with the booking button being hidden at the bottom of the page
  • I had to create account in order to pay via direct debit card (it was not clear at the beginning that PayPal was even an option, more on that later on)
  • I had to specify my age when trying to switch between 1st and 2nd class ticket options (Do I need to be of certain age to sit in 1st…?)
  • At the end I was told that I would need to show the card I booked with when on the train as proof of payment…brilliant: since my card was blocked a few days before due to fraud I booked this trip with my wife’s card, so after putting in all the payment details this was no longer viable as a payment option
  • Instead, I had to fetch my German Identity Card, which we keep in a safe place, to produce proof of identity now during the booking process
  • I then found out that the address on the ID must match the address given when created profile; that didn’t work because my ID has my parent’s German address on it (I am not a UK citizen) so I had to go back to step one and change my profile address to my parents’ address (bizarrely, my globally valid Travel Passport was not an option as proof of address, which would have had my UK address on it)
  • When I finally got through to last page of the checkout process, the PayPal option miraculously appeared out of thin air – so all this faff was for nothing!

If your head was spinning in the last 60 seconds, then you get a sense of my Kafkaesque fight against Deutsche Bahn’s digital windmills. The entire ordeal took me about 10-12 minutes, versus 2 minutes recently when booking with Virgin trains.

One hypothesis is that this obnoxious and catastrophic online experience might be defined by legacy back-end IT systems back-dating to a time when travel across Europe wasn’t seamless and boarder enforcement troops entered the train for passport controls. Another hunch is that Deutsche Bahn’s senior executives don’t still don’t trust this Web 2.0 thing and as a result spoiled the likely more customer-friendly proposals proposed by their swathes of employees with something digital in their job titles.

So, what makes good digital leadership? How do you lead for a digital customer experience?

I’d always start with this as a no brainer; walking in the shoes of your customers. Have your product marketing people personally live like a customer for a while. Testing online checkout? Test while tired late on a Sunday night, when many of your customers finally have the time to do these ‘digital errands’, and you can quickly identify ways to improve towards the shortest and easiest way to purchase your products. And simply try to get as close to Amazon’s one-click shop as possible – they invented this for all of us to copy.

Then I’d work with your senior executives on their mental models and what is required to succeed in the digital age; letting go, tearing down functional silos and hierarchical barriers, trusting customers and employees, being outward-oriented, building far-reaching networks, hiring positive deviants and setting KPIs around the most critical digital processes (customer-facing and internal) for all senior managers.

Last but not least, you need to have the guts to decommission your legacy systems; sometimes you need to start from scratch because clean and lean code loathes legacy languages.

Marcus Druen is a change catalyst and executive coach. He develops amazing leaders and adaptive organisations. His clients include Microsoft, nPower and Liberty Global.

Over the last 20 years, Marcus has worked intensively with ‘already-digital’ clients like Rackspace and eBay as well as a group of 20 start-ups.

He is now focussing on fostering digital leadership in analogue corporate land by drawing on his formative experience of working closely with Simon Devonshire (Entrepreneur in Residence, Whitehall) and through his work in coaching executives at Telefonica O2.

Marcus Druen collaborates with Atmosphere to enhance digital leadership in analogue corporate land.

To learn more about what you can do and why you need to bring your company up to speed on digital transformation and leadership please contact us.

Image credit Sochi Iceberg Skating Palace by atosorigin on flickr Used under creative commons license

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