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Develop a strong digital strategy

Guy Carberry, 12 July 2021

Do you have a vision and strategy that is fit to propel you into the digital age? Does the term ‘digital’ even make sense?

What do we mean by ‘digital’?

There is a tendency for words and phrases to become pervasive in our day-to-day language. We assume a common understanding but often we’re not checking in with each other to know for sure. Back in the late 90s we had ‘New Media’ which meant publishing to the World Wide Web. Then we had ‘online’, Web 2.0 (a particularly weird term) and a whole host of other terms to keep us guessing. ‘Digital’ is the latest in a long list and no-doubt soon to be replaced by another flavour of the month.

Actually, it turns out that ‘Digital’ is relatively meaningless as a clarifier in this modern age. It’s everywhere. It’s the zeros and ones that make up our daily experience, consumed via mobile phones, tablets, check-in desks at airports, ordering booths at McDonalds and the QR codes you have to scan to let the government know where you are.

To better understand what digital is, we need to consider exactly what it isn’t. I think we’d all agree that storing paper customer records in a metal filing cabinet isn’t digital. When companies and organisations talk about ‘digital transformation’ they aren’t simply looking to replace all their employee analogue Rolex’s with futuristic digital Casio watches. It’s not about using technology for the sake of it. It’s about how you can harness digital technologies to improve services and products. It’s all about enhancing the end-to-end customer and employee experience. It’s about culture shifts, better working practices and developing people within the organisation. It’s a shift in mindset. If you installed a chatbot and thought your job was done then you are very much mistaken!

The ‘Digital’ term is likely to fade away as organisations achieve a level of maturity and start to focus on the who, why and the how rather than the what.

What is a strategy?

A strategy is a combination of a vision and the means to achieve that vision. The vision is where you want to take your organisation.


Vision: To deliver all of the tutorials online from April 2022.


Where are we right now? - some tutorials are delivered online, most are face-to-face, in person.

How will we get there?” - Better technology, software development and procurement, upskilling tutors, recruiting tutors, testing and learning with students and staff.

How will we know if we’re succeeding? - Students and staff happy with new experience, booking system MVP delivered, accessibility validated, great feedback. Why do you need a strategy?

Without a strategy, how would everybody know how we want to go about achieving the vision? People may have differing opinions on how to achieve the vision that may be at odds with each other. The strategy helps people align their work to a common set of goals.

How to create a strong digital strategy

Remembering that ‘digital’ isn’t just about the technology, but about people, processes, and mindset, here are a few pointers:

Have an inspiring vision

Write a vision or mission statement that people can get behind. Involve people in creating the vision or mission statement. You could even run some collaborative mission design sessions and co-design the end result. Make sure you involve people at all levels in this work, as long as it is something that energises them.

Know your values

Define the core values behind the vision. How do we want to be as an organisation? How do we want to be perceived? E.g. as altruistic, caring and compassionate people. Check how well your existing organisation measures up against these values. How might things need to change?

Test out your vision

Validate the vision. Does it resonate with the people it affects? Do they see and understand the value? If not, go back and refine until it does.

Get smart

Clearly define SMART objectives and outcomes - what do we expect to be different as a result of this strategy and why? Pay particular attention to the ‘realistic’ and ‘time’ elements here. Try and identify all the possible barriers to success you can think of. Test the hell out of your assumptions.

Find talent

Recruit talented people who share your organisational core values. If people don’t share your values it’s going to be a real uphill struggle to make meaningful change. People are the biggest blocker to progress and you need people who will advocate, facilitate and lead change.

Eliminate ambiguity

Be clear on roles, responsibilities and accountability. People need to step up and be accountable for owning distinct parts of the strategy.

Measure success

Put measures in place to know how well / on track you are towards your objectives. Be one-step ahead in planning for ‘what-ifs’ to keep things moving and enabling adaptability.

Tell people what you are doing

Create a communications plan to keep people informed and involved. Overcome objections and any negativity by bringing people along for the ride. Harness people’s enthusiasm and find ways to enable people to contribute.

And there’s more!

There’s a lot more to learn about creating an effective strategy but really, you need to dive in and have a go. Strategy isn’t for everyone. Some people absolutely hate doing anything strategic. And that’s ok! Remember to play to people’s strengths, establish psychological safety and you’ll be off to a great start.

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