After spending more than 25 years as a manager in marketing, communication, brand experience and operational development at a global manufacturing company, I cannot help but reflect on business development and the digital transformation from then to now. Seeing what impact online has had on organisations, or frankly – surprisingly, just how little that has actually happened is very interesting. It's also something to learn from since it means there are still a lot of improvements that can be made.
Why is that?
In my experience, the businesses that have managed to change and adapt quickly are the ones without a long history and rigid organisational structures, either entirely new companies or smaller entities branching off from their major organisations. These have been allowed to operate more freely on their terms, meaning they have had more room to try new ways of working and adapting to new technology.
An old company can be compared to a machine in many ways; millions of bits and pieces risk creating friction, and the same goes for giant enterprises with tons of tools and processes and lots of people. Even if we leave the overall view and break it down to a certain isolated level, there will still be individual friction with the built-in human resistance to change old habits. It hurts, short-term, if you suddenly lose power, get a budget cut, or have additional administration tasks at your desk or whatever it might be, even if it will be for the greater good in the long run.
I think that what still causes the flow to not be so "flowy” is that one doesn't maximise the possibilities of shortening the informational flows and channels; there is always an automatic resistance to change. To come around the problem, one must pick specific parts out of its set structure to be able to change and improve its usage.
Had you asked me 25 years ago, I would have bet my money on these changes to have been more implemented and trimmed now than they are.
For instance, at the big company where I worked, we had this vision of getting the customers to communicate directly with product development to shorten the communication chain and get the message straight to the source. At the time, we didn't have all the tools and processes to get it fully up and running, so that was probably a bit ahead of its time, but I feel this still hasn't happened in many companies. And that is too bad since there are so many possibilities still unused.
The most notable evolvement is, in my opinion, the pace and flexibility of sharing information. That has improved tremendously since we left the fax machines and snail mail to start using digital solutions for communication instead.
Regarding meetings, having many of them remotely instead of forcing everyone into a physical location obviously saves much time (even though it's nice to visit an office in a distant place from time to time).
All this means a higher productivity rate in the number of dialogues you can have during a specific time range. Adding the quality parameter to the equation can, of course, add a new angle to whether you achieved the desired outcome or not. So, a systematic evaluation of the communication process is always recommended.
As already mentioned, multinational mega-corporations with plenty of hierarchies and silos tend to break up the flow of communication and production management. With just as many ideas and agendas, many players make it hard to implement a significant change in one blow.
How can it improve?
Everyone needs to have a process in place to evaluate fundamental things like organisational structure and the number of tools, integrations and platforms used. But in daily work, I think it's important not to underestimate the actual value of thinking everything through before executing or implementing something. Like, you have this scope that needs to be done – what would be most beneficial to get us from start to finish? What resources do I really have, and which process and tools will work best for them? Define the prerequisites in each case instead of just going generic because different situations require different setups to operate at their best.
Ensure that you break it down into manageable, bite-size pieces – especially if you sit in an organisation size XL.
My top three tips
Think it through! Evaluate your scope vs the desired objectives. See what tools and resources you have and decide what will be the best process given these circumstances.
Meet the customer on their premises (not necessarily physical, although that is sometimes the best arena for it). Everyone knows this, but don't brush it aside. Be aware of where they are, and meet them there.
Break it down, remove it from the overall structure if needed, and handle the tasks freely to get things done, especially if you want to change a predefined process or implement a new tool that has always been done in a certain way before. Just because something has been done in a set way historically doesn't necessarily mean it's good or the most optimised way of doing it today.
Even though digital efficiency is what many of us need and strive for, it's essential that the physical meeting for the long-term relationship still gets its space when the context requires it. Real-time cooperation in cloud-based presentations and time-efficient meetings are excellent. Still, it would help if you also had situations where you overhear something in the conference room or catch someone quickly by the coffee machine.
It's easy to have a plan in your head of everything that needs to happen here and now, and you probably already have your mind in the next meeting before you leave the ongoing one. I think you need both that, and to meet at, e.g., an event to nurture all aspects of the relationship and get a good balance of it all.
To conclude, there is no one-way solution that fits all contexts. See what type of communication is needed for each project to adapt and optimise the outcomes. And if the change is going to happen, it's not only about having the proper hardware or the latest technology. You need to change the mindset and culture in people and organisations' behaviour to implement and drive change.
If implemented right, the shift should happen so that information, tools, processes and individuals experience a revolutionary change in methods and value creation, both for the business and on a personal level.
Companies need to focus on their digital transformation since most of us are connected to the internet, one way or another. It's where most of us learn, exchange and communicate services, products and knowledge. And if it back in the day was mostly about email and www (Netscape, Yahoo and Hotmail), the current digital landscape cover so much more, with everything from automation and customised user experiences to new business models in entirely new ecosystems. To meet the ever-changing market requirements, you must constantly be ready to change and adapt (or create new) processes, cultures and customer experiences.