We all recognize we are in the digital age, but what does this really mean for our organizations? At an obvious level, it means digital technology is an integral part of getting work done. Your customers expect you to be online; they expect your website to work on their phone; they expect your automated email systems to work. What was once an amazing technological marvel is now simply the cost of doing business. Welcome to the digital age.
But being a digital organization goes well beyond the technology side. Digital is a mindset. As the digital world evolved, it started moving in a particular philosophical direction, and not everyone realizes the implications this has for our organizations. For example, in the digital world, the user comes first. Period. If it doesn’t work for the user or customer, then it simply doesn’t work.
As an example, look at the online retailer Amazon. Think about how easy and smooth your experience is as a user—always customized to you in ways that are almost scary—yet they manage this customization in the middle of billions of dollars of transactions every year. That’s amazing. And on top of that, they will actually pay attention to complaints from individual customers. As Amazon’s senior VP for North American retail operations said, “Every anecdote from a customer matters…. We treat them as precious sources of information.”
This is the digital mindset. We’re processing billions of dollars in transactions, but we won’t lose sight of a customer anecdote. That’s hard work. In fact, that is central to the digital mindset: focus on the user even though it will require more work by you as an organization. That’s just the way it works these days, so Amazon has built that into its culture.
But there’s another side to this focus on the user—and one that Amazon might be missing, based on what was reported in the New York Times recently. The user is not just the customer—your employees are actually the “users” of your culture. So truly digital organizations are relentlessly focused on their employees, even if that’s harder on management or the organization.
This doesn’t mean pandering to employee needs, and it’s not about doing their dry cleaning or offering gourmet catered meals at the office. It’s simply a mindset that puts the employees first.
For example, the American Society for Surgery of the Hand is a small nonprofit in Chicago that embraces this digital mindset deeply. When they redesigned their office space, they chose to eliminate private offices—including for the CEO and all senior managers. They have desks in the open along with everyone else. They didn’t choose to do this because it was cool (okay, I admit, Tony Hsieh does this at Zappos, so it counts as “cool”). They did it because the employees found they could do their jobs more effectively when they had immediate access to the senior managers. If it’s easier on the employees, they do it. They also customize the every employee’s job description, every year, based on the unique professional development needs of the individual. That’s extra work for the organization, but it’s more effective for the employees, so they do it. That’s the digital mindset.
But don’t think the digital mindset is just about an organization making sacrifices for the employees. The organization benefits handsomely from this approach, because they get outrageous employee engagement as a result. As one ASSH employee said, “This place cares more about us, so we should care more about this place.” Employees here literally say things like “I can’t imagine working anywhere else.” This fuels better performance. They’ve accomplished tasks that most small nonprofits only dream of, like creating an online system for finding every piece of content the association ever created, seamlessly searchable across multiple platforms, all in a period of eighteen months. When they have job openings, they get applicants from the cool tech companies in Chicago—not the typical flow of talent when it comes to small nonprofit organizations.
Want more insight on the digital economy? See Size Doesn’t Matter For Businesses In The Digital Economy.
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