Leading a Digital Business – is it all too much?

Chris Farrance

Chris Farrance

25 April 2014

Death & Taxes + Change

It was said that nothing is certain in life except death and taxes. Change was probably no more than a gentle trickle then but it’s become a raging torrent now! As business leaders look to the future not only do they have to factor the increasing pace and scope of change but also face the fact that there’s no best practice model for a digital business. It’s very much a case of ‘plug and play’ and the accepted wisdom is that sooner you start the journey the better.

In my conversations with business owners I often find that social media is the litmus or ‘marmite’ test – blue or pink, love it or hate it. For some, unfortunately, social media trivialises digital and gives it a bad name but there’s growing evidence that it can no longer be dismissed as just a fringe interest.

Look around – too many businesses have felt the cold winds of digital disruption – music, films, books to name but just an obvious few.

Will it be your business next?

I’m the King of the Castle!

Life use to be much more straightforward in the ‘command and control’ era where language and behaviours such as ‘it’s my way or the highway’, ‘shape up or ship out’ and so on prevailed. In many businesses often just length of service and a modicum of ability – probably political – was enough to get you to the top of the heap. Even better if you could play the ‘knowledge is power’ card too!

Not so these days. Internet access has democratised knowledge – which of course is not the same as experience. Knowledge is no longer hoarded in the same way – often it’s just a case of what do I need to know at this point in time or, better still, who do I know who does know as in ‘phone a friend’!

Experience in a fast changing environment needs to be aligned with personal agility and flexibility and the ability to learn and admit to mistakes. Harnessing the skills of others in a much more open and valued way is part of the shift to developing a ‘digital mindset’.

What to do?

Disabuse yourself of the notion that you have to do it all yourself – although you do have to set the tone – walk the talk as they say.


1. If you’re social media unaware or averse, find someone in the company who’s active and can show you the ropes – it’s called ‘upward mentoring’. Make sure people see you doing this and encourage it throughout the business.

2. Get the IT and Marketing people talking to each other – the chances of success are multiplied if there’s a shared understanding across these and other disciplines in the business. Move budgets – that’s always a powerful signal.

3. Successful digital businesses focus on the customer experience and build a single picture of their touchpoints with your business. Kick start this by putting together a cross functional project team to map the customer journey – your people will definitely know where the blockages are.

4. Build a culture where digital is ‘inside out’ not ‘outside’ in. Weave a digital capability in to the fabric of your business and own it and echo it throughout. Find out who the informal leaders are – those who are respected and listened to irrespective of where they sit in the hierarchy. Use them as catalysts of change. Part of this culture too, should be treating your people as responsible adults.

5. Don’t try and do it all at once. Break it down into a series of projects and go for some quick wins upfront – good practice change management of course. This is an uncharted journey capture the learning whether it’s positive or negative to build a sustainable and profitable business.

Start Practicing

As Gary Player famously said ‘the more I practice the luckier I get’. So start practicing digital now!

What would you add to this list?
Please do share it with me and the others who read this blog.

By Chris Farrance