How you can change your company to be digital first

Paul Boag

As in-house web teams we like to moan about our organisations not getting digital. Perhaps its time we did something. But what?

I am an optimist. Some say annoyingly so. I am somebody that believes any situation can be made better. That moaning achieves nothing and there is always a way to improve things.

One place this attitude is put to the test is working with some of my clients. Its not the people who are the problem, it’s the organisational culture. Stuck in the industrial era, it is just not compatible with the digital age.

Understandably the internal web teams in these companies are frustrated and tend to moan. But, I maintain that even if you are at the bottom of the food chain in an organisation you can influence change in the culture. You don’t need to be senior management to get stuff done.

I am sure you have your own ways of influencing change in the places you work, but I tend to recommend three particular strategies. The first is adjusting your attitude.

Adjusting your attitude

The truth is that you cannot change other people, but you can change yourself. One of the best places to start when trying to influence how your business and colleagues operate is to alter your own approach to things.

Take for example those frustrating requests you get from colleagues. You know the ones, where they come to you with some ridiculous idea. They want a new sub-site or to create a site that doesn’t scroll.

As web designers our natural inclination is to roll our eyes and say no. But this gains us a reputation as difficult and often leaves us isolated.

We need to learn to be more positive with colleagues taking time to examine their ideas and discuss alternatives with them. Sometimes we will even need to put in some extra effort and demonstrate why their ideas might not work and show them some alternatives.

We also need to become considerably more proactive. We need to be reaching out to colleagues with suggestions about how digital might help them in their job. Sure, not all of our ideas will be accepted, but the act of trying helps to change the culture and improve peoples understanding and perception of the web.

Part of being proactive is not waiting for permission, but just starting to make changes. Often web teams feel like they don’t have the authority to do that, but nobody is going to give you permission, you have to take it.

As Grace Hopper famously said:

It is easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

The temptation when faced with negativity towards our contribution and the web generally is to withdraw into ourselves and do the bare minimum. However, in reality we need to be reaching out. A concerted campaign of education is a big part of that.

Start a campaign of education

If we want our organisations to embrace the web then we need to educate colleagues and management. Nobody else is going to do it, they will not recognise the need on their own.

I know we are not paid to do that but we need to find time. Put hours in at weekends and evenings if necessary. Do whatever it takes. Ultimately it will make our jobs more enjoyable and fulfilling.

But what exactly should you do? I have seen loads of different educational campaigns work. Just some of them include:

  • Regular guest speakers
  • Internal blogs
  • Newsletters
  • Workshops
  • Mini internal conferences
  • Training

Basically anything that gets your colleagues thinking about how the web could impact their job.

Ultimately it is about engagement and including them in what the web can do.

Include colleagues in the process

One of the best ways of educating colleagues is to include them in what you do. We have a habit of taking a brief from an internal client and then going away and implementing it. However, it doesn’t need to be that way.

Include the client in your team. Work alongside them so you can interact regularly. Show them work often, ask for their opinion and discuss options. Don’t keep them at arms length.

For wider inclusion, why not run a monthly usability test session that you can invite anybody from the company to watch. Steve Krug recommends offering free pizza to lure them in.

Nothing is more enlightening for your colleagues than seeing real users interacting with your website. Best of all, it will help improve the site too!

A concerted campaign

Will any of these ideas transform your organisational culture overnight – of course not. However, with ongoing concerted effort you will begin to build a community of people who do understand digital and who will be willing to join you in championing too. Eventually you will hit a tipping point and the organisational culture will begin to shift.

I have only mentioned a few ideas, but there are so many more. I am sure you guys can suggest other approaches you have tried and I would like to highlight them in an upcoming podcast, so please share them in the comments. How have you helped your organisation ‘understand’ digital?

“3d rendering of a sea of umbrellas” image courtesy of