Stop excluding the high street from digital transformation

I have a passion for helping big organisations transform and adapt to the changing and complex, connected world we live in today.

I also feel a great deal of sadness when I see high street shops close down. Empty buildings in my home town is becoming the new norm. The once bright lights, buzz, a place to socialise and enjoy an experience together. Now its full of sad, grey empty shells. 

But I also love internet shopping. Who couldn’t say they enjoy the perks of getting whatever you want at the touch of a button in your own home? The likes of Boohoo.com and Wish.com leading the way in the female fashion world really have taken the industry by storm – with highly competitive pricing, choice and excellent customer experience. The digital highstreet is an enjoyable place to be.

But there’s still something about the physical high street that I long for. And the ability to try things on still remains an advantage. 

So what can we do to keep our shops? Here are some thoughts I had whilst sitting on the train the other day:

1. Understanding customers

Why are all shops on the high street open at the same time? Surely some people only want to buy things at certain times.

The internet is open 24hours a day. While that’s probably a unrealistic target, how about closing on weekdays and opening in the evenings? I reckon shops need to reconsider what they know about their customers behaviour and do something different.

2. The shopping experience 

The only way to compete with the online space is to do what it does, better.

For most big retailers they have the advantage of already having a solid loyal customer base. Shops need to hold on to them – Offer them the ability to check out other prices, other brands. And make sure yours is the best. The tech is already available. 

One of the best usp’s for high street shops is  ability to try things on. Make your changing rooms a big deal and a good experience. Make them big, have big mirrors, make them social and put the fun back into shopping with friends. That’s the real USP of the high street. Go over the top – offer refreshments and other perks. 

3. Connect on and offline 

Shops need to make the experience visible and appeal to their online audience.

They should get them talking to other customers and sharing their offline experience, online. They should get reviews up in the shop, make it easy to see what “people like them” bought with those shoes etc. It’s all about making the experience as easy as online. 

I loved this idea – social media-informed digital clothing rail launches as part of campaign to boost towns fortunes through digital. It’s essentially a ‘live feed’ digital clothing rail shows when an item on the rail is trending – or not – on Facebook or Instagram.

More of this please!

The best free online digital courses

Forget NetFlix. I’m a self-confessed MOOC (Massive Online Open Course) junky.

I love learning new things, learning at my own pace and on the move, so MOOCs and online coursers are perfect for people like me.

Online courses are becoming more common, but which are right for you?

Here’s my list of the top five:

  1. Coursera

I couldn’t possibly miss this one out. It’s by far my favourite – its mission is literally to ‘provide universal access to the world’s best education’.

Coursera is a platfrom that partners with top universities and organisations around the world, to offer courses online for anyone to take.

There are hundreds of different courses available at different times which include short video lectures, interactive quizzes, peer graded assessments and a forum to connect with other learners and instructors. There’s even an option to purchase a certificate after you complete the course for a small fee.

I’ve completed many courses with Coursera including: ‘Change, Innovation and Creativity’, ‘Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence’ and ‘Brand Management: Aligning Business Brand & Behaviour’.

There are plenty of topics to choose from – from arts and humanities, computer science, engineering to learning Chinese. There’s also more specialist subjects which you can pay to do.

  1. The Digital Garage

Another one from Google. This one’s great because the very first step once you’ve signed up is to take a survey which then helps create a personalised learning plan with different lessons just for you based on your goals. The videos are beautiful too!

  1. FutureLearn

Okay, so I haven’t used this platform yet but I’ve signed up to a ‘Transmedia Storytelling’ MOOC that starts at the end of January, so I’ll let you know how that goes…

It’s got some pretty good reviews and its run by a privately owned company owned by the Open University with 76 partners around the world including the British Library, the National Film and Television School, professional bodies such as the ACCA, and businesses like the BBC.

There are tons of courses ranging in length – from three weeks to ten weeks long – the subjects are also diverse and the videos look good too.

  1. Google Analytics Academy

I completed the ‘Digital Analytics Fundamentals’ course – a subject I really knew very little about. It covers what data is most important for different business objectives, analysis techniques (e.g. segmentation and context), conversions, attribution, creating a measurement plan and a deep dive into Google Analytic reports.

All in all a very thorough overview from a trusted source.

There are also more specialist courses such as ‘Google Tag Manager Fundamentals’ and ‘Mobile App Analytics’.

  1.  Canvas

This one’s interesting because anyone can apply to run a course (as long as you meet the criteria).

Lots of MOOCs available, specific to the digital industry. Only some courses have certificates, so check before enrolling if that’s important to you. There’s also a good discussion network where you can chat with other participants, to help you along the way.

Your customer experience is your brand

The way we see brands is different to how we viewed them in the past.

Peter Druker once said the role of a business is to create value for its customers. That branding was something separate and extrinsic to the business and lives in the mind of customers.

Business academics are now starting to realise it’s something more than that. It’s intrinsic and helps drive customer behaviour. The brand is actually a dynamic sequence of experiences, and the role of the business is to deliver these different experiences to the customers.

Disney is a great example of this. Former CEO, Michael Eisner once said; “A brand is a living entity – and it is enriched or undermined cumulatively over time, the product of a thousand small gestures”. Disney do this so well that words, like ‘magical’ will trigger people to think of Disney before any other brand.

And if I say “innovation”, you’ll probably think of Apple.

That’s because everything it does – from it’s design, customer service, product launches and retail experience fuel the customer experience. Its brand is not something that can simply be drawn up in an advert.

Strong branding is becoming more prevalent in today’s world of business; with commoditisation which is being driven by the internet, increasing consumer power and demands, ‘copy-cat’ products, and highly competitive pricing.

And because of this, it’s becoming increasingly important to every sector (insurance companies spring to mind), that customer experience is the new marketing.

So, what does this mean for organisations?

Well, if branding is the customer experience, then it needs to be part of a bigger thing. It requires deeper engagement with different departments – HR, IT, customer service etc, etc. and a wider understanding of the bigger picture.

This means ways of working is changing, ways of measuring brand health is changing and ways of measuring success is changing.

The solution?

Newton’s Cradle.

preemptive-testing-fig-2

This is a metaphor for the role of management in an organisation – which is to align the business with the brand and customer behaviour across the organisation.

This hasn’t always worked out so easily in the past. So many projects fail and so many organisations fail because they’re too big to function. There’s simply too many people who are pulling in different directions. Each department has its own targets, own culture and own way of doing things. But this doesn’t make sense.

I’ve only ever worked in small agencies, but working with my clients, who are mostly large brands, has made me see just how difficult it is trying to work across silos to make anything happen.

In a small agency of course, you don’t have that problem. Everyone you need to help you is in that same room. Which is why, at small agencies, such a great deal of learning happens – because you’re able to share and collaborate with so many different people in a short space of time. And as a result, get things done quickly for the client which may have taken them months to years to achieve in house. I’d also argue that there’s more alignment which means a consistent customer experience – because you all have access to the same information.

So, we know collaboration is key. I’ve seen lots of different ways of attempting to tackle this problem; whether it’s using enterprise social networks and other technology, or the example from Google about making staff queue at lunchtimes to encourage collaboration. Some organisations have project steering groups which I think actually work quite well at times, but it still means having to round people up from across the organisation to get stuff done, which can be a big challenge. This has a massive effect on time and morale. But also innovation and customer experience can become damaged in the process.

Customer Hubs

Customer Hubs is a concept introduced by Martin Hill-Wilson. It tackles all of these problems with what is essentially a very simple solution – one I wish I’d thought of. In the most simplest form, it is a physical space where the best people from around the organisation can come together to learn together, work together and make decisions.

It builds on the idea of social command centers – where more real time knowledge about the customer can be accessed more than ever before.

The idea is that this group of people together can provide more value than the sum of its parts.  If you get people from marketing, sales, IT, HR, brand, customer service etc. making decisions, it will behave like a catalyst for customer experience and innovation – and the brand.

Just like Newton’s Cradle, customer hubs is about alignment to get things moving. It’s about being able to move as fast as a smaller more agile organisation but having the advantage of staying big.

You can read more from Martin about customer hubs here.

New Year, Big Changes

If you haven’t heard the news about the changes to NixonMcInnes you can read up the full detail here.

In short, NM have decided to decentralise the business and many of the consultants will become associates and spinning off their own initiatives.

For me, these changes mean something BIG, SCARY but very EXCITING!

….I will be starting up my own business with Danielle Sheerin as my business partner, launching February 1st!

We will be calling ourselves BrightCultures and we will be focusing on digital transformation.

Specifically our focus will be on helping organisations to align their digital strategies, cultures and leadership, to help them thrive in a complex, uncertain world.

We know that digital and social technologies have changed the ways that the business world operates and organisations need to adapt to meet this challenge; to thrive in the post digital world they need to be authentic, innovative and collaborative.

This is where BrightCultures can help:

  • working with organisations to understand what this shift means for each part of their operations, for example, customer experience, innovation, internal comms, etc
  • evolving digital, social and comms strategies accordingly
  • supporting them to build their capabilities internally and implement these strategies effectively
  • and creating a climate that allows them to deliver responsive and resilient digital leadership at all levels of the organisation

I’ll include our BrightCultures website soon, but for now, I’d like everyone reading this blog to keep us in mind for anything and spread the word.

Massive thanks to all those who have supported us so far including Tom Nixon, Nick Shepherd and Leesa Albrighton to name a few….sending you all lots of love and happiness for the New Year! Let’s rock 2015!

Meaning: My Top 10 Highlights

There’s *so* much I could say about this years’ Meaning – our annual conference for people who believe in better business.

Here were my top 10 highlights:

1. Joel and Michelle Levey’s rockstar-like appearance

These mindfulness legends have 90 years worth of experience learning, teaching and embodying mindfulness. Watching these guys talking about their work – involving the (once secret) ‘Jedi Warrior’ training they designed for the U.S. Army and how they bring mindfulness into modern business practices, such as the G-Pause at Google – makes me feel in complete ore.

15199532574_ec898e499f_z2. Mark Stevenson’s fast-paced opener painting a big picture of the future

I’ve always enjoyed Mark’s comical presentation style – making us all constantly question ‘normality’ – is his doctor a racist?

3. The ‘before I die’ boards

15821469562_f0417ee981_z (1)4. Comedy from Bob Doak

It’s always great to have someone talking about better business from a massively successful global company, but when Bob Doak’s making the crowd crease with laughter, it’s even better.

5. Lunch!

They say the best learning’s at conferences happen in the breaks. There was a real sense of community over lunch this year over a beautifully hot Greek meal and conversation cards to help keep the conversation flowing.

15199629334_980b7730ae_z6. Neil Mullarkey’s energetic close

I’ve always loved watching Neil on ‘Who’s Line Is It Anyway?’ and I had very high expectations but he didn’t disappoint. His approach to applied improv was brilliant and useful.

7. The sense of community

Everyone who participated in the workshops, the brave volunteers who were pulled up on stage by Neil Mullarkey and Karen Pine from DSD who jumped up on stage at the last minute to encourage us all to take action.

8. Iain Chambers’ inspirational return to the stage

Conferences are great for inspiration and for learning new things, but they are extremely powerful when they actually help you to deliver action. Iain’s story demonstrates this so nicely.

9. The powerful return from everyone’s favourite Chief Happiness Officer

Alex’s talk on ‘how to be a workplace rebel’ demanded we all take action and be the changemakers we want to see. He invited us to look at the funny side of conformity and to stay unique, unlike these guys

Conformity – elevator candid camera from Ryan Beck on Vimeo.

10. The hard-hitting stats of Mark Stevenson

I never knew the actual cost of the Iraq war or the price we pay for technology –

“When blackberry messenger went down for a weekend in Abu Dhabi, the crash rate went down 40% because no one was texting whilst driving”.

 

Can’t wait for next year… No pressure Louise!

What a month!

There’s been so much going on recently that I’ve been neglecting my blog.

It’s only now that I am sitting on the bus traveling home that I have had a bit of time to digest everything and I’ve realized how exciting life is at the moment.

I’ve been completely inspired by so many things recently.

Here’s what’s been going on:

  • Meaning Conference was AMAZING
  • I’ve been working on a (top secret) plan for a new initiative, which I can release very soon….
  • I’ve been on a journey to bring mindfulness into the workplace, I’ve been lucky enough to be trained by World Class mindfulness gurus, who were founders of the once secret Jedi Warrior Training program for the U.S. army, Joel & Michelle Levey, I’ve me and had some amazing conversations with people on a similar journey, and I’ve published a whitepaper on mindfulness approaches to change, leadership & innovation which is also going to be published by Melrcum next week
  • I delivered a new type of workshop around a new model of leadership with my colleague, Danielle Sheerin, for PR Week which seemed to go down really well
  • I’ve had been inspired by conversations with people who are designing a new type of business fit for a VUCA World. Plans include demolishing decision-making completely, and mapping energy to create a decentralised organisation
  • I’ve been uninspired and re-inspired by green dots
  • I’ve been through an almost life-changing Clear Ideas Process with Very Clear Ideas man Charlie Davis
  • I had training on complex systems thinking which changed my whole perspective on leadership
  • I received some great news from my previous apprentice
  • I’ve experienced Tom Nixon’s radical business school pilot

I’ll be writing some posts on all of the above over the next few weeks, and I’ll include the links above as it happens.

What does it really mean to be a democratic business?

NixonMcInnes, where I work, is one of the top democratic companies in the world, recognised by WorldBlu.

My understanding of this has changed, and it’s only starting to become clear what this actually means in practice.

Although we’ve always known that being democratic is the right way of doing business, it hasn’t always been easy.

For us, in the past, it has meant that everyone has had a say on everything. This brings up some frustrating memories – evenings spent debating minor details of the annual budget with 20 people is not a good use of time.

WorldBlu

Our WorldBlu award

So what does it mean?

WorldBlu has 10 principles it says every democratic organisation should live by:

  1. A clear purpose and vision

We’ve just become super clear on this at NM. Our purpose is to create meaning in business. In our case, since becoming clear on this, it’s meant that everyone in the organisation has had the clarity required to be free to do whatever they want, as long as it is serving this purpose.

Personally, my challenge has been around shifting my mindset and behaviours from putting profit first in everything I do, to prioritising making this purpose real above anything else.

In practice, this has been very difficult for me because it goes against everything I’ve traditionally been taught about business. This will only truly ever work if the leaders of the business believe and do it. And that’s what has helped me in my transition.

  1. Transparency

This is the bit I believe we’ve always done well, but perhaps we haven’t always been very good at understanding why we do it.

Open book accounting, knowing everyone’s salaries and having whole team strategy meetings, are just some ways we’ve been able to practice transparency.

In practice this means understanding why we do what we do and being fully open so that everyone is able to have a greater understanding of what the company requires and how each individual can help accordingly.

  1. Dialogue and listening

If you’re going to be open & transparent then you need to be able to give and take feedback. The idea is to create new meaning and connections so that everybody can work together to serve the purpose.

  1. Fairness and dignity

For me this goes hand in hand with point 3 – listening and dialogue has to occur through the entire organisation to be truly meaningful. Treating everybody as equals builds trust, confidence and happiness.

When I first joined NixonMcInnes as an intern I was genuinely shocked to see how interested everybody was in my opinion. But it makes total sense now – everyone has a perspective and everyone can add value.

  1. Accountability

This has been a point of tension at NM in the past.

The idea that everyone had to have a say in absolutely everything we did made it extremely difficult to be clear about who was accountable for what.

Now we’re in the process of solving this issue by being super clear about who owns an initiative. At NM we see different initiatives as ‘circles’. Each circle sits within our over-arching purpose and has an owner – the source of the idea initiative (for more info on ‘source’ read this). This means that this person owns that initiative, because they hold the vision, so it’s down to them to recruit people in to help and ultimately have complete creative authority over it.

This is still in progress at NM, but currently is working out pretty well for empowering those with ideas to serve the purpose and creating fulfilment – one of our values.

  1. Individual and collective

We are all at NM to serve its purpose so we all need to be fully bought into it. At an individual level though we all have our own purpose.

We’ve been working with Charlie Davis, Very Clear Ideas & NM Associate, to define our company purpose, which ultimately starts with the source (founder, Tom Nixon), but we’ve also been encouraged to find our own sense of purpose. It’s when these two things align that beautiful things will happen. And the overlap between these two things is the sweet spot.

  1. Choice

We are now actively encouraged to ‘follow the energy’ at work. Just the other day I sat down with my coach and MD, Max StJohn, and we came up with a list of all the things I enjoy doing at work. Then we made a list of all the things I don’t like doing. He pointed at the ‘stuff I don’t like doing’ column and said “stop doing this now”. It’s been completely removed from my job role!

When I tell other people this story, they immediately think of the negative impact it might have on the company – “what if no one wants to do the same thing that’s crucial to the company?” is the question I normally hear. But how could it be so crucial to the company if no one wants to do it? What’s the point in doing it if there’s no drive behind it? The job will be badly done and we won’t be living our values – to be fulfilled, and to have complete autonomy.

  1. Integrity

We’ve now really started to change things up with the way we hire. We only want to hire people who really believe in our purpose and our values because that’s what and how we want to deliver.

  1. Decentralisation

Again, I think this was something we hadn’t got quite right in the past. Now we have a clearer understanding of control – it sits within the source of the initiative. So, although we have decentralised control, control still exists.

This means, instead of having everything open to everyone all the time, we have four stages, or operating models – just like the different options on a Google doc (another Very Clear Idea from Charlie):

  1. Private – protecting it so that it can grow
  2. View – sharing but not asking for input
  3. Comment – inviting feedback and input
  4. Edit – designing it together

10. Reflect and evaluation

Leading and developing is crucial to success. We practice feedback to each other but also give space for the whole team to talk about what we feel is working, or flag if something needs to change.

I really buy into these 10 principles and, although I’m still figuring lots of this stuff out, it’s becoming much clearer.

Democracy isn’t just about involving everyone all the time, it’s about creating freedom by having clear lines of accountability and giving everyone an equal opportunity to input and make decisions that will affect them.