Whilst putting the world to rights with David James last week (a recommended pastime), I reflected on the notion that developing ‘a digital mindset’ has been some of the most valuable work I do. Understanding the value of a digital mindset and encouraging its development has been a perennial need for all of my clients and in every role I have held since working at a search engine in .com bubble and bust times. In that search environment, everyone had that mindset, but it didn’t really warrant conversation. It was just work. When the theme emerges as I work with clients now, it is often not explicit or perhaps, not even a stated requirement at all. It can be a more obscured foundation which clients realise they need to put in place as digital objectives are pursued.
As we venture further into the COVID landscape, I wonder whether we need to change how we think about ideas of digital change, however. Perhaps, we should start considering an effective decision making mindset as our goal and leave the D word out of it altogether. Calling it “digital” is no longer so relevant and may be an unhelpful misnomer. Our current and apparent future circumstances suggest that ‘digital first’ is a given. It should be expected and anticipated by organisations and their workforces. It is not an option now but a pervasive reality in the world of work (certainly in the world of learning and development).
But, what might we have meant by Digital Mindset in olden times? What did it involve back in the days when we could comfortably hide from it? These are some characteristics I believe we should continue to value whatever we call our required mindset. They are features of good teams I have worked with and amongst. There are quite a few of them and many are straightforward, even obvious. That’s because this stuff “is not complicated, it’s just hard”.
- User focus – a vital foundation. (Starting with a statement of the obvious). Problem solving, needs focus, audience relevance etc. Without this one, nothing else matters much.
- Empathy to enable the above is perhaps the most valuable capability to develop as you seek to answer the “What’s in it for me?” query.
- A preoccupation with data (another crucial foundation). All kinds of data: product, content, digital, qualitative, anecdotal, technology and commercial. But not only learning data.
- Evidence based decision making because collecting data is not enough, we need to apply it as we decide what to do.
- Making the most of connection (another vital foundation) – more than the connection of instructors with students and users with content. Along with data, this is a core benefit of the digital age.
- Build/measure/learn – and then build/measure/learn – and then build/measure/learn…
- Implementing quickly, guided by that data you are so preoccupied with
- And changing course quickly, because your first judgement is often faulty when you do something new.
- Establishing a well understood and well communicated vision – giving everyone a guiding purpose and direction to guide those rapid course corrections.
- Product management – a new P to rule them all for L&D. Programmes and projects need to give way to this role and sensibility. Technology management is only one part of the puzzle.
- Perfection is a ghostly presence; good enough is great and that is enough to be getting along with.
- Bringing together multidisciplinary teams – gathering the required expertise to take those quick decisions and learn from them.
- Organise these teams in as flat and open a way as you can – information will travel further faster.
- Empower these teams to fulfil their clear objectives.
- Use your leadership heft to remove obstacles rather than control activity.
- As you lead these efforts, make it clear that you don’t know all the answers and that you are ready to learn.
- Communicate openly and often, remembering that this includes listening often too.
None of these points are really to do with technology. Digital has never really been a technology matter. Organisations who sought to resist digital change have consigned it to the techie spaces of their environments, where change could be minimised and avoided. Many L&D and HR functions have done this I believe. Time has run out though and there is nowhere left to hide.
These points describe ways of thinking, organising and acting. Ways of getting things done. Given our current circumstance, perhaps they just don’t need to be digital any more.