Create a high-performance digital business

New Thinking 28 November 2016 Ben Hayman

To deliver constantly improving digital services that end users or customers love and have conversations about is a great achievement and something to be immensely proud of. To do that and look at what might happen next in your market and be ready to disrupt yourselves with a radically new product or business model is the real peak of digital business performance.

Some organisations are born digital. For them, it’s not a case of needing to transform themselves from a pre-existing, non-digital state, but to focus on the essential parts of being digital.

That model involves a powerful mix of obsessive focus on their relevance to market and dedicated innovation to think about what their business model should look like next. It’s a constant questioning of assumptions and a rejection of complacency.

Maximum responsiveness

As a standard characteristic, these businesses also have operating models designed for maximum responsiveness – flexible technologies, Agile working methods and lean approaches to investments in their services or products. They know what they don’t know and are happy to experiment to find out more.  

But it’s not easy to create that perfect set of characteristics in a business that wasn’t born digital in the first place. The focus on ‘Relevance’ to your audience, ‘Responsiveness’ so you can turn on a dime and ‘Innovation’ to imagine a future state and disrupt yourselves before the competitors do is still the ultimate goal.

Get set up for digital excellence

However, pre-digital organisations like this will likely need to undertake some level of transformation along the way to get there. Their operating models, culture, technologies and skills will need to shift. Setting the business up for digital success is not complex, it’s just hard. The organisation needs to be ready to fund services in small increments, not big products or costly technology. There needs to be an operational mindset and good strong product ownership. It’s then down to skills and how people interact since the chemistry between the people is where the magic happens.

To us, the core aspects of a digital business developing through transformation looks like this:

  • RELEVANCE – An absolute focus on the end user or customer’s need for service, while making decisions based on rich data from everywhere
  • RESPONSIVENESS – Organising the whole business so it can turn on a dime and change in small or large ways whenever necessary
  • INNOVATION – Dedicating part of your investment to experimenting with ideas for a future where your organisation may not even exist
  • SUSTAINABLE TRANSFORMATION – Setting an example as executive leadership to support a risk aware, not risk averse climate where teams are the unit of delivery and find the right approaches and tools for their needs

Unwrapping Responsiveness some more, the organisation needs to be set up to make decisions rapidly if it’s to be able to operate constantly changing and valuable digital services.

This demands a platform of technology and people capability in the business that’s built for the Digital Age. If existing technology is older than five years, then it’s probably not fit for this and ‘Modernising the Core’ will be important. Older than that and it’s likely to be essential. The people within the organisation will need to have Agile digital skills and the confidence to apply them. Above all, there will need to be a culture that values learning and communicates effectively at all levels.

Have conversations, dig into data

Understanding the relevance of your offering to your users is a discipline that must span the organic, analogue world of conversation and the digital realm of data and analytics. To get a properly clear and rounded feel for how your market and users see your service takes face-to-face interviews to really hear user needs, as well as the use of broad sources of data from call centres, social media and web analytics, for example. Bringing this together in a way to support decision making, based on data, is a powerful enabler for a digital business.

It’s not hard to vote in support of innovation in our organisations. It sounds and is indeed right to back this. But sponsoring the right kind of innovation and then being able to fold it back into the business and deliver value is not so easy. In the higher performance organisations we see, this is a systematic activity, not an exceptional project.

The way governance works and funding is considered has been tailored to support ongoing innovation activities as part of business as (un)usual. And it’s accepted as a part of everyone’s job to innovate, whether that be micro or macro innovations.

For stunning results...

So the positive patterns we see come from these three aspects – Responsiveness, Relevance and Innovation underpinned by Sustainable Transformation for pre-digital businesses.

When an organisation understands its relevance, is responsive to that and makes change fast with feedback from real users and can also innovate to explore a disrupted future, the results are stunning. These places are exciting and creative for their staff. Job satisfaction is high and people feel a real sense of shared ownership in the organisation.

In future articles, I’ll explore these aspects in more depth along with the anti-patterns and traps to avoid when transforming a business towards digital excellence.

Read more about these core aspects of a digital business: Responsiveness – 'Thriving times for responsive organisations' and Innovation – 'Making innovation central to the new normal'.