Harvard Business Review looks at Four ways to scale your digital capabilities .

Four Ways to Scale Digital Capabilities Beyond Your Team

by Perry Hewitt  |   10:00 AM December 6, 2013


Digital today is part of everyone’s job — and many enterprise organizations are adopting strategic mobile, social, and cloud initiatives to educate and empower employees. But these organizations still face a daunting challenge in distributing digital expertise: how do you develop digital competency more broadly across a large organization?

Here are four ways I’ve seen this problem tackled effectively in my 17 years leading and consulting to digital teams across organizations large and small.

1. Make sure your guidelines align to business objectives

Bringing distributed groups up to speed with digital strategy puts you in the guidelines business. A Center of Excellence model, where an internal unit leads and convenes efforts, can be effective for crafting a digital strategy, driving innovation, and developing guidelines. Examples include: What are the standards for mobile user experience? What platforms are approved or recommended for social media? It’s easy to limit these guidelines to a general digital/mobile/social/video 101 that offers widely applicable, useful advice. But these efforts deliver significantly higher value to the organization when the guidelines are tailored to specific business objectives with tangible examples, like “video of this length performs better for conversion” or “this social content strategy is more effective for sharing to this segment.” General digital literacy programs are important in the enterprise but the bar for a Center of Excellence is higher – this group needs to tie the digital learning to the business benefit.

2. Develop complementary pathways to learning

Consider two paths to learning, with both playing a part in getting digital capability to scale.

The first is on-the-job learning — you have a project that needs resources, and people learn as they go with targeted, just-in-time training to advance the project. Types of new skills might include: shooting low-fi, short-form video; mastering the basics of audio editing; or entering content and metadata into a CMS. Learning this way may well add to the project timeline, but has the benefit of being assimilated “in the field.”

The second is dedicated training. I think of this not only as formal training, whether in-person, conference sessions, or Lynda-style videos, but the kind of focused peer-to-peer training that happens at brown bag lunches or on quiet afternoons. This kind of skill building is ideal when there is an entirely new methodology to be learned, like Agile, or an opportunity to take a skill to at the next level, like honing web analytics through the Google Analytics Academy MOOC.

Think of digital learning as a stairway: The treads are the on-the-job learning, and the risers are the dedicated training that take skills to a next level. The key to remember is that it’s an uneven stairway — on-the-job generally is more immediately practical than the dedicated training but could take longer, and the dedicated training can introduce entirely new skills and systems, but assimilation of skills will vary.

3. Reward digital knowledge sharing, not hoarding

The saying “culture eats strategy for lunch” is never truer than when applied to knowledge sharing. Does your organization actively reward people who are conveners and promoters of digital learning in others? Make your organization more effective by hiring people with the ability to explain the tools, value, and methods of digital strategy to people who otherwise may not use or fully understand them. And find ways to reward those behaviors, like spot bonuses, high profile projects, or formal recognition programs. You can also identify a knowledge sharing goal as a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) of project success, alongside on time and on budget. Ask, “How did people working on this project advance their digital capability?” Finally, remind the entire team that successful enablement is its own reward — the more digital skills are distributed, the more the digital team can focus on higher-value, forward-looking work. Digital leaders must make it clear that the days of the webmaster holding the keys to digital kingdom are long gone, and digital knowledge sharing is a driver of individual and collective success.

4. Clean up your language

It’s easy for many — OK, for me — to become so immersed in and enamored of the technical world that language becomes jargon. Make sure both your presentations and hallway conversations meet a high bar for clarity. Ask third-party listeners with less specialized knowledge to offer frank feedback by email after a talk — my solicited listeners have offered terrific guidance on assumptions or acronyms that can seem off-putting. Expressions like COPE (create once publish everywhere) or native application may be appropriate internal shorthand, but merit explanation. While it’s easy to lapse into jargon, using plain English and being explicit in tying digital’s benefit to the business will help people understand and engage with your content.

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2 Comments to “Harvard Business Review looks at Four ways to scale your digital capabilities .”

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