Multichannel Success Podcast series

Season 2 Episode 2 - Strategy & Planning - Transcript

Strategy & Planning transcript

#### David Worby

Hello, and welcome to this week's episode in season two of the Multi-Channel Success Podcast. This week, we're gonna be talking about digital strategy and planning. I'm David Warby, and I've got with me Mark Pickerton.

#### Mark Pinkerton

Hello.

#### David Worby

So let's start with the kind of opening gambit on what is digital strategy. I've often thought it's strange that digital strategy seems to be one of those subjects that kind of sits in the in the shadows of businesses often and many successful businesses today never started out to be what they ultimately became but but let's start with what we think a digital strategy is all about what's it designed to do Mark

#### Mark Pinkerton

cover the key aspects of digital, whether or not that's just purely selling online or whether it's much broader in terms of enabling customers to do X, Y or Z. But it's looking at all of the holistic elements that have used digital and create a coherent vision for how those are going to be used together to get the outcome that you're looking for.

#### David Worby

Yeah, I guess we should just clarify that we're kind of assuming here, which is a big assumption, I know, that there is a business strategy. You know, the organization that you're part of has a wider strategic aim, and therefore this conversation is how do you evolve and develop a coherent digital strategy that supports the wider business vision or the picture that the business might have painted of what it wants to be or how it wants to be thought about or how it wants to kind of evolve. This is the digital version of the business strategy, and we'll come a bit later to the fact that many of you may find that the organizations you're part of don't even have a business strategy. So that's a challenge, and we've got some tips on how you do with that. But one of the things that fascinates me is the fact that in an agile world, a fast-moving, fast-paced, often changing priorities world, isn't digital strategy really relevant? I guess you would say having an alignment across the organization of what we're actually trying to do is a good thing, but I'm sure the jury's also out on whether it makes businesses more successful or not.

#### Mark Pinkerton

Well, I know, David, you're a bit more of an Agile skeptic than I am, but from my point of view, A, I think Agile does deliver in general for most organizations if they do it well. But the key thing from a strategy point of view within Agile is that the strategic direction that you're trying to focus on is what underpins the shared vision that everybody in Agile is meant to be building their various elements towards, and it doesn't matter whether you're talking Agile software development, Agile product development, or even Agile marketing. If you know what your shared vision is, then individually in your sprints or in your sales or your tribes or whoever, then you can actually make sure that you're going in the same direction or the required direction. And the other key aspect of it is transparency, so making sure that everybody in the organization understands what the strategy is and that any changes to that strategy are done in a transparent way so that you're taking people on a journey. That's really the simple way of looking at all this.

#### David Worby

Yeah, and I guess unlike the driver of a car who takes people as passengers, in organisations today everybody needs to play a part in getting to the end game. It's not just one person leading it and others following. I think it's more about everybody playing a part. And Agile I think is a value and it's also a complication. Quite a lot of digital businesses are actually both technical development and capability as well as business and marketing and other capabilities and they often are not Agile. So within an organisation I think for the purpose of digital strategy and planning Agile is a bit of a kind of left field subject for me. But let's move on to what it contains. I think in our experience

#### Mark Pinkerton

No, I want to challenge that a little bit because for me in terms of the definition of a of a digital strategy It has to encompass a number of elements. It is likely that there will be a technology aspect of it irrespective of whatever is going on in IT and we know that marketing in the broadest sense of being part of the organization has probably spent more on technology than IT over the last five or six years and in some cases that is being reined in in the current environment, but Digital strategy and planning would encompass those aspects of technology it would cover the aspects of technology that interact with IT ie there's a requirement within our digital strategy for IT to be able to provide an API from the ERP system, for example in order to enable Real-time e-commerce or something, but also it's going to cover the mark the marketing aspects of it

#### David Worby

Yeah, I think it's healthy that we have disagreements about some things and this is one where we kind of have slightly competing views, but I just don't think that Agile as a philosophy or a concept or a practical way of getting things developed is necessarily at the centre when I think about digital strategy and planning, but that doesn't mean it's wrong, it's just one way of looking at it.

#### Mark Pinkerton

Yeah, and the other big pet hate that I think both of us have is that digital strategy is not just marketing and the number of jobs that I see for a digital strategy manager

#### David Worby

Yeah.

#### Mark Pinkerton

or a digital strategy director and you read about the first four lines and it sounds great and then you get to the point of, oh, it's about advertising and digital strategy is not just about advertising and I wish those jobs were described as digital advertising strategy or digital marketing strategy or digital media strategy, all of which are perfectly valid roles to have in an organisation, particularly one with high levels of customer acquisition, but they are not covering all of the things that you would expect to be covered in digital strategy.

#### David Worby

I'm with you on that. I think that we often see it in the clients that we talk to as a kind of undervalued discipline. And when you think about what a digital strategy person or a digital strategy function is actually doing, it's actually ensuring that the business delivers on its goals. And part of the delivery on its goals is the commercial delivery of its goals. So for me, there's rarely a role that is any more important from a business perspective. But weirdly, as you say, it does seem to be undervalued.

#### Mark Pinkerton

Yeah, and we know that lots of people, their day job is 110% of their time, and therefore they don't have the time to create a digital strategy, so they spend all their time doing. And that effectively makes people into headless chickens, because they don't necessarily know what they're trying to do. They're reactionary, rather than being proactive, and it causes all sorts of other problems. So the value of a digital strategy is it pulls those threads together, not in necessarily an authoritarian way of, it's not in the strategy, therefore you can't do it, but it's about making sure that everybody's aligned, they understand what they're doing, and therefore the actions that they can take, either as senior leaders or as individuals, support those general tenets that they're trying to achieve.

#### David Worby

Yeah, and I think that all makes sense, although we've probably all had experience of having digital strategy developed and then it being used as a reason why somebody ought to be no longer in the organisation. So it can have a double-edged sword element to it, but let's not cover that today. If you're out there and you're aspiring to be a digital strategy person, we think from our experience that there are really three big components to what it is that you will have at your disposal. The process that we tend to go through, and we'll talk a bit about clients who kind of have done it well and maybe those who haven't done it quite so well in a minute, is a strategy that, as Mark said at the start, which is a picture of the future. It's the way in which you get everybody aligned around a vision. Which way are we headed? North, south, east or west? And how do we paint a picture of what that destination looks like? Secondly, we then have a road map. Now this is often subsumed as a technical thing. This isn't a technical thing. This is a business road map. It's how do we get from where we are today to that picture of the future that we've painted. What are the key things that we need to do in order to be able to deliver on that strategic aim? It's also got specific actions, not at the detailed level, but it'll talk about the kind of things, the kind of milestones that we need to achieve, and it will set accountabilities. Sometimes that's an individual, sometimes it's a team, but if, for example, we want to become a B2B dominant business, and we're not at the moment, there are actions about developing a B2B capability, and somebody needs to have those tasks or those plans allotted to them. Tattooed on their forehead? Tattooed on their forehead, on the shoulder.

#### Mark Pinkerton

Yeah, I mean the other thing in there is that the prioritisation of those actions comes out in the roadmap and it therefore allows people who are making decisions about the business to balance what they're doing versus where they're at at the moment. So yeah, we have a strategy which, as David said, gets alignment, the roadmap of how do we get there, and then the final stage, which people often jump to, I think in my experience, is they want to produce a Gantt chart, they want to produce a detailed set of actions, and absolutely you need that. I think historically it would have been a combination of PowerPoint and Microsoft Project, but now things have moved on sufficiently with software, so you would have the detailed plan in something like Asana, so that you will then be able to align or give out responsibilities to the right people, validate what they're doing, again you've got a completely transparent world within tools like Asana where you can add comments, people can make sure that all the things that should be considered are being considered within that, and it becomes a living, breathing thing, whereas a plan in most people's heads tends to be something very old school and this is what you're going to do, guys.

#### David Worby

Now, the next part of it, because we said the components really are, as Mark said, the strategy, the roadmap, and the plan. The next step was often a step that, in my experience, we completely forgot about when we were doing it. We then said, we've done a strategy, a roadmap, and a plan. That's it. Big sigh of relief. We now have a shared vision that we can align the organization to. And the one thing we always forgot to do was to work out to the extent to which our capabilities mapped to that strategy. So there we were, prior to this, running along quite nicely, thinking we were doing all the things we're supposed to be doing. And all of a sudden, we now had a new plan, and that required us to do different things. And often, we didn't have the skills to do those things, or we didn't have the experience to do those things. And the thing that we always forgot to do was to then work out the extent to which there are gaps in our organization. So-

#### Mark Pinkerton

Do we need to define what we mean by capability here?

#### David Worby

Yeah.

#### Mark Pinkerton

I think perhaps we do. From my point of view, a capability might be about staff. Do you have the right level of people? Do they have the right skills? But it could also be about having the right system or having the right process in place. So it's the classic sort of people, process, technology view of it. But what it really comes down to is making sure that the organisation has the ability to execute on the things that you want to try and do.

#### David Worby

Yeah, I mean, to use the example of before, if all of a sudden we're going to become a B2B dominant business, and it's significant, it might not be a bad idea to recruit someone who's got B2B experience, who can come in and jettison your activity, trying to get people who've got no experience of B2B into that mindset may just be too much to do. And therefore, your plan lacks the credibility it sometimes needs. So that manpower assessment, do we need retraining? Do we need more resources? Do we need resources with different capabilities and different skills to come in to help us make this happen, was something I remember terribly. We all used to try to twist ourselves out of joint and try to do things we weren't equipped to do back in the day.

#### Mark Pinkerton

That was part of the fun though, wasn't it?

#### David Worby

It was, yes. We could afford to fail in those days because success was relatively easy, today it's not quite so easy.

#### Mark Pinkerton

It was, yes. Yeah, so yeah, so perhaps we should then move on to what is the best way to actually create a plan. And I think from our point of view, as consultants to to, you know, retailers and brands, part of our role is to help people create these sorts of plans. And how do they get? I guess the other aspect is, as we talked about earlier, was making sure that there is a business strategy on which to hang your digital strategy, this kind of number one prerequisite, really, making sure that the ambitions that you've been provided, you know, digital is going to be 8% of our total business is actually carried over into the into the digital plan.

#### David Worby

Maybe we should take a break here, for a message from our sponsor.

#### Mark Pinkerton

How do I get started with this? Really, from my point of view, that's one of the key roles where consultants can play. We are good at synthesizing business strategy and setting that as the cornerstone of what's going on from a digital strategy point of view. And very often those two things are not aligned in immature organizations. The key thing of where I'd start with this is that templates very often don't necessarily exist. Templates for digital marketing plans exist aplenty, but templates for actual digital strategy are harder to come across in a way that really makes sense. And similarly, having guides, you can look at Gartner, you can look at some of the McKinsey stuff, and you'll get an understanding of some of the elements that will go in there. Gartner say that you'll have a vision, you'll have customer experience, you'll have some IT stuff, you'll have stuff about data and visualization, which strikes me as a little odd. But it also then doesn't talk about capabilities. So even the Gartner guide is a bit strange from my point of view. And all you can go to the more business strategy consultants like McKinsey or Bain or all the rest of it, but they don't tend to publish those structures.

#### David Worby

Or alternatively, people listening to this can give us a ring and we can talk them through it.

#### Mark Pinkerton

Yeah, absolutely. I was trying to take it from a practical point of view of what you can do to your new job, day one, create a digital strategy.

#### David Worby

Yeah, my observation for people in that scenario would be you may be in a business that already has a business strategy that it can articulate. If you do, then that's not a bad place for you to start because when it comes to templating, when it comes to formatting, when it comes to kind of playing the game, leveraging off the back of what the business has as its strategy pack is probably not a bad place to start. But equally, I'm sure there'll be people out there who know that their business doesn't have a strategy. We hear this quite often, how can I possibly create something that has value for the digital part of our business when there's no clear and approved and signed off vision for the business? And we do have sympathy with that. That is difficult. However, I think when confronted with that, what we often say to people is that's an amazing opportunity. It's a fabulous chance for you within an oasis of nothing to be able to create a plan and get everybody aligned. And you can then somehow reverse engineer that back into the organization. So if you can create a digital strategy that you can align your organization or your digital organization to, to what extent can you then see that as the way of driving what the business should be defined as? So if you have nothing, don't worry. It's probably in some ways a better place to start because you've got a clean sheet of paper and you can, you can kind of reorganization, you can reorganize the organization as it were, around what you think the digital aspiration should be. That's quite a, that's quite a liberating experience. I think I should also talk Mark about how we as consultants, because you mentioned that we can help out in getting digital strategy conversations started because we've done it a number of times before.

#### Mark Pinkerton

You

#### David Worby

But how do we assess a client's strategy or more importantly, where they exist, how do we assess the quality of them and the degree to which they're likely to be successful?

#### Mark Pinkerton

degree to which they're likely to be successful. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But I mean, you know, typically you can look at the outputs that an organisation has produced just historically to see whether or not they actually have a strategy. Is there a business strategy? Typically a business strategy will be some sort of document if, you know, it might be just a set of pages on an intranet, to be honest, that would work just as well. But normally one of the things we're looking at from a digital strategy point of view is not just saying, is the motherhood and apple pie business strategy there, but actually do we have an understanding of what the IT strategy for the business as well? Because you have to very often synchronise with that at the same time. Is there a technical architecture on a page? You know, that's one of the first questions we normally ask for, because it allows you to understand or allows us to understand where an organisation is at. So is there something that I can read is the first thing. But then the other thing is, is it a tome that another consultant did five years ago that's sat on a shelf ever since they produced it?

#### David Worby

It's not on the shelf.

#### Mark Pinkerton

Is it actually referenced by people? Do they use it? And we would very much hope that they do, having paid good money for it in the past if they've used an external person to do it. But the key sense that we will try and get as we talk to people around the business, which is our general methodology of finding out things, is to understand whether or not the vision that they have is genuinely shared. That's a subjective judgement call that we will make as we talk to people at a client. Are their goals seemingly aligned? Are they trying to do the same thing and do they express that in ways of their own area that kind of makes sense that they're pulling in the same direction?

#### David Worby

internal warfare broken out because their goals aren't aligned. Yeah which we

#### Mark Pinkerton

Yeah, which we have seen many, many times.

#### David Worby

have seen many times, quite often. And that aligning of goals I think is important because whilst you can't expect maybe a marketeer to have precisely the same goals as an operations individual, a customer service individual, they have to believe that them achieving the targets that they're being set in whichever area they are adds to the wider good and contributes to the sum of the whole. And if people don't believe that I think that's a reason for dissent to break out and internal barriers go up and silos get formed and now all of a sudden we're not collaborating, we're not working together very well.

#### Mark Pinkerton

Yeah, I mean, clearly any sort of digital strategy that you create, including the digital marketing strategy, has to be believable to all the rest of the organization. Else, they're just going to cease to buy into the overall plan. And therefore, anarchy will reign over time. And they'll do their own thing that will benefit themselves rather than pulling in the right direction. So within the plan, when we assess the strategy quality, are there clear digital KPIs, or is it a list of 100 different metrics? And for me, the process that you go through to go from having 100 metrics measuring everything, which, by the way, you probably need to do, but getting to what are the key performance indicators that actually tell you. And arguably, conversion rate is arguably not one of those, because it's an output of how much traffic you have and blah, blah, blah. But making sure that you understand those KPIs, or OKRs, if you want to call them that, for your digital business are there and accepted by other areas of the business as well. Very good.

#### David Worby

Very good. Well, look, I think we're coming quite close to the end of this, but before we come to kind of whose responsibility this is, which I think is quite an important topic, I just wanted to cover, with a bit of help, Mark, the core requirements. We've touched on the importance of transparency. We've touched on the importance of having a shared vision that can be shared across the organization. But I do just wonder whether there's a kind of relationship between companies who have made it their requirement to be very clear about strategy and their success and those that haven't, i.e., the difference between smaller businesses who probably just get on with stuff rather than those that have the capability to pause and reflect and consider, which small businesses probably rarely have the chance to do because they're all running at a million miles an hour and they're all doing 20 different jobs and delineation between operational tasks and strategic tasks and today's tasks and tomorrow's tasks is less well-defined. I think that that could determine whether you've actually got the capacity to be able to sit and pause and reflect.

#### Mark Pinkerton

Yes.

Capacity issue is often one of the reasons why you bring an external party in, like a consultant. But also, it's the ability to understand the threads across all the various different elements is also an important reason for bringing a consultant in. The interconnectedness.

#### David Worby

They need to connect to them.

#### Mark Pinkerton

Yeah, the interconnectedness of all things digital, which we fundamentally believe in.

#### David Worby

Yeah. They need to connect to them.

#### Mark Pinkerton

And I think over time, within the digital world, that has actually become more important as people get more specialized earlier in their careers. So if you want somebody to come in as a digital director at a board level in a reasonably large meeting to large size organization, they're going to have holes in that knowledge. But they need to be able to understand how the threads all pull together. Yeah, no, that's right.

#### David Worby

Yeah, I know that, I'm right.

#### Mark Pinkerton

But then the other aspect that we talked about off mic was the degree to which these things get complicated, the bigger the enterprise that you're dealing with. Now, clearly, the larger the enterprise, the more likely you are to want to go down things like the data science route, which is potentially quite a substantial investment for an organization. But there's a threat. Not everybody can do that by any stretch of imagination, even with AI tools as they will get to in a couple of years' time. You still won't be able to do that at a small organizational level. It's too complicated. There's too much data that you've got to try and assemble. you do get to that point of sort of exponential complexity as you get bigger, which then becomes harder to manage and your teams are bigger and it's harder to align them. So making sure that you have a strategy becomes more important the bigger you get, but that doesn't invalidate its need at a small organisational level, small or medium organisational level.

#### David Worby

Yeah.

#### Mark Pinkerton

My argument there would be that if you have a clear digital strategy, but you have a very small team, you're going to have agencies who will do X, Y and Z for you. Here you go, here's my digital strategy of what we're trying to achieve and how we're going to do it, and then suddenly these external parties can pull more in your direction or can be assessed as well, they're pulling in the same direction.

#### David Worby

I guess one of the things we haven't talked about, and maybe it doesn't need too much time because it's kind of a bit obvious I guess, is that strategies that serve a purpose of signing off an approved set of actions and then sit in a drawer gathering dust, being forgotten about and being dug out when someone next asks a question, clearly have less value than those that become living and breathing and pause for reflection probably every month, maybe not every week in organisations, but certainly every month. The plan clearly would be almost weekly, so you'd be able to see how you're doing weekly, but I think it's staggering how many times we ask for these things and are often told that they don't exist and then someone manages to whisk it out of a drawer dated 2014 and hand it to us. Just one more thing on the core requirements. Do you think that remote working, here we are in the rebounds of COVID, COVID has happened, remote working has become adopted by many, indeed it was before COVID and is now. Do you think that with remote working it brings an even greater focus to the need to have something around which we can all coalesce our beliefs?

#### Mark Pinkerton

As a It's a really interesting question, and I think I'm in two minds on it. I think you can see that the more sophisticated organizations, i.e. the ones who are probably who are more agile, therefore have a greater degree of transparency over what's going on, but are also backing that up with a shared vision, are able to morph, or have now morphed into remote working, because they've got the right ways of working. They have daily stand-ups. They make sure that the people who are remote working have social interaction, you know, off Slack in different ways, but they will use Slack or an equivalent of Slack to pull everything together. So you know, the more sophisticated, no, the more mature organizations are better at doing remote working, or the more digitally mature organizations are better at remote working, is my current thesis. The organizations that you see that are saying, oh, we get fantastic benefit from getting everybody in an office together one day a week, and that they will bash through everything that they need in one day and week, and then they can go away for the rest of the time, and they're all realigned effectively, that's somewhere in the middle. And then you've got the other people going, oh, we really need people to come to the office four days a week. To me, kind of implies that your systems and processes aren't working.

#### David Worby

Yeah, yeah, that makes sense.

#### Mark Pinkerton

Yeah, yeah, that makes sense. But I'm open to debate on that.

#### #### David Worby

With any of these, there's always going to be examples that disprove the theory, but I think broadly speaking, you're probably right there. Okay. All right. Well, look, just before we wrap up, final question which we got here was about who is responsible for this. So we've talked a lot about the fact that in small organizations, it's going to be possibly part of someone's job, maybe in larger, more enterprise-scale organizations, there may well be a digital strategy director whose job is to kind of manage all of this and create all of this. For those small organizations who don't have a dedicated person, they're going to face some pressures here, aren't they? Because this is kind of a full-time job, even in a small organization. How do they manage? I guess they should just bite off the bits they think they could reasonably bite off because they're doing 500 different things.

#### Mark Pinkerton

Yeah, I mean there will be a there will be pressure on them from above to make sure they produce this this document or this you know set of outputs that we we've described and trying to do that in a day-to-day job is just one of the pressures that that you live with but understanding that it is important and it's not just something that sits on the shelf hopefully will motivate those those individuals to do it and you know it may be that it's the econ director it may be that it's the chief customer officer it may be that it's a you know a cdo if you have a chief digital officer or even the head of it i'm you know yeah we're not saying it's one specific role that or job title that produces these things but it's that person who needs to have the overview of people process and technology across digital yeah

#### David Worby

Yeah, I remember when I was doing it I used to physically take myself away and sit with a cold towel over my head and kind of reflect on this and kind of I often found that I wrote my most useful talking points when I wasn't actually in the organisation being concerned about the day-to-day stuff.

#### Mark Pinkerton

Yeah, it's entirely possible that you don't necessarily want to do that as an individual, that you want to get your team and you have away days to do that. One of the outputs would be the nascent strategy document, the threads of the strategy document.

#### David Worby

OK, look, I think time's got the better of us. We're running out now, so thank you for listening and we hope that that was useful. We look forward to your feedback and we look forward to hearing you again or seeing you again on the next one. Goodbye.

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