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Why leaders of digital initiatives inside organisations need to think like start-ups

think like a startupOr to put it another way, why they need to be more intrapreneurial. I have written about this before on LinkedIn and its also covered in my trend report although those are broader pieces covering more than just digital initiatives.

What I am talking about here relates to initiatives that I am often involved in with my work at Microsoft. The application of collaborative and social (digital) technologies to increase employee engagement and productivity. The end goal is to improve the performance of the company.

First of all lets explore why they don’t think this way currently. Digital initiatives are often separated from the core functions of a business. They get assigned to a department (often IT, corporate communications or HR) and set a budget.

They are seen as a cost centre with no accountability for the impact their efforts have on the bottom line. Assimilation of their activities with those of the business is often difficult.

Because their focus is inward they don’t see the audience of users they touch as customers. They don’t treat them like customers with needs that must be satisfied. They don’t understand that users have competing alternatives for tools and for their time.

They often don’t understand the currency of usage. They don’t see that to derive value, users first need to adopt then engage with a service. This doesn’t happen without support, marketing, training and other guidance. They don’t see the need for that effort and hope it will happen as if by magic.

At worst, where the cost of a digital service is subscription based, they see the need to keep use and costs down.

Finally, they are too often change oriented. They run digital initiatives in the context of a business transformations. This is like putting the cart before the horse. Change is a “what” or “how” component. The “why” component they should be thinking about is innovation.

Ten reasons why and how they should

  1. All startups with some form of digital offering have a clear focus on usage. Its the one metric to rule them all. Not having users using their applications means not having a business. This provides a sobering attention to this detail that digital leaders would do well to heed.
  2. Aligned to usage is growth. The closer to the shape of a hockey stick, in trajectory terms, the better. All means fair and foul (within the law) should achieve it. Growth hacking is an experimental way of tackling it that digital leaders should adopt.
  3. Experimentation is the new planning for startups. They don’t have time to create long winded master plans. Speed is of the essence. They build a minimum viable product based on a theory (hypothesis) of what will work and then test it. They iterate from there, course correcting as they go.
  4. Most startups fail. Competition is tough. If you are not standing out you will likely end up lying down (six feet under). A more cut throat and differentiated approach will do digital leaders no harm.
  5. Innovation lies at the heart of any startups efforts – the ones that succeed that is. They are either trying to be first with something new, better than others or more cost effective. In an organisation that cost saving should be for time and ease of doing work.
  6. Disruption is innovation at its finest. If a startup can change the way an entire industry can work then it has reached the pinnacle of its existence. This is the way to view transformation in your organisation – to get it to work in a completely new way.
  7. Customer obsession and success lie at the heart of a startups efforts. They hire teams of customer success managers to focus on this. A digital leader would do well to consider their internal users like customers. They should also have teams focused on this. I’ve written about the combination of growth hacking and customers success management before.
  8. If usage is the currency for a startup then data is the means to measure it. You have to have deep insights into why users are using a product or service and why not. Acting on these insights is critical to improvements in the business.
  9. For startups to get started they often need funding. They seek it from venture capitalists (VC’s). VC’s are a discerning lot and see many startups pitch their offering. They decide on the basis of the pitch’s effectiveness. As a digital leader you will need funding. Master the art of your pitch.
  10. The new paymaster is the business. Convince the business of what you are trying to do. Integrate yourself and your staff deep into the bowels of the business. Show them the money.

Have I missed any? What do you think?


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