Multichannel Success Podcast series

Season 2 Episode 4 - Culture & Process - Transcript

#### David Worby

Hello, and welcome to this week's episode in season two of the Multi-Channel Success Podcast. My name is David Worby, and I'm delighted to have with me David Kohn from the Multi-Channel Expert. Hello. Today, we've chosen to talk a little bit about digital culture and process. Now, you may be thinking that these two things are quite separate, and indeed, maybe they are. But today, we're looking to explore how a digital culture comes about, how it evolves, and how it sits within, in some cases, a wider organizational culture that it maybe doesn't always align with. Appended to it is the conversation about process and how the opportunity exists for businesses to think more actively about their processes with the view to making them more efficient and therefore giving the organization a better return on its investment. But that's all for a little bit later. Let's start with what we mean by a digital culture. Now, David, I've always thought that digital culture is kind of something that just comes about. But then also, we know that sometimes people define it and kind of live by it. What's your experience of it?

#### David Kohn

I think I'd like to start by looking at the what of digital culture, so what are the things that an organisation has to take into account if it's to be digital? First thing I'd say is traffic, the way in which you attract your customers, the way in which you market and communicate to your customers and your prospective customers is increasingly digital. The second thing is the selling of product, whether you're selling online or whether you're selling in store or indeed whether you're selling through a marketplace. That selling process, that conversion process is again increasingly digital and the third piece of the jigsaw is service, once you've sold something how you deliver it, how you communicate your delivery to the customer, how you deal with the after sales, again that is increasingly digital. An organisation that has a digital culture is one where throughout the organisation they understand all of those three things and they all incorporate it into their daily working routines and the way in which they think about doing their jobs.

#### David Worby

So I think that's interesting because if the what is different from the way it used to be when we were all in short trousers, then presumably the how is different too, so how you go about engaging an audience, converting them and then offering them a service is now very different from the way it used to be, where you kind of relied upon more traditional skills and capabilities, you're now more reliant upon digital and remote capabilities, would that be true?

#### David Kohn

Well, I think you've often talked about how what defines a culture is how people behave, how they do things, so maybe, you know, you've got some words to say on this.

#### David Worby

yeah I think it I think we've all been organizations that kind of define what they want the culture to be and then issue it as an edict and everyone's supposed to be like it and I'm sure there are many examples where that's been successful but the ones where I think there is more success in my experience is ones where people have understood how individuals behave and sort in cases to moderate how they behave but then to enshrine that behavior in how they want the organization to think about culture so for an example do we all sit there with our own worksheets working through our own things and at the end of the week get up and and go home or do we actually collaborate do we actually share information in a kind of transparent and kind of dynamic way and therefore receive the benefit that comes from a number of people working simultaneously on similar related tasks immediately defines a culture of those that want to work together collaboratively rather than those who just want to sit in the corner with the headphones on and do their own thing I'm not saying that that's a bad thing but it can sometimes not get the best benefit out

#### David Kohn

Yeah, I mean, but look, both of us come from very strong, traditional retail backgrounds, and we both worked our way into the digital side. And I think we're now, to some extent, wrestling with the interaction between digital and traditional. And one of the things I've found very much when I started in retail, it was a very top down approach. Uh, there was an edict, as you say, issued from above, and then that was translated into a strategy and that was translating a plan and you had to follow the plan meticulously. Digital hasn't completely changed that, but it has made a big difference to the way in which people do their jobs. You can be much more agile. You can be much more dynamic. You can be much more iterative. You can do thousands of small things. And by doing those small things, learn an awful lot by doing, rather than one or two massive projects, which may or may not go off the rails.

#### David Worby

Yeah, no, I think you're absolutely right. I think we can all remember those days where we sat there on a Monday morning and we kind of received our instructions. And we were told what defined a good week and a bad week. And I just think those days are gone now. I think people empowered with both the tools to do the job within a framework of a culture that is acceptable to the organization, i.e., collaborate or don't, go off and explore what they can achieve with what they've got. And the net result of their efforts is evaluated in a way we could never evaluate it in the old days. You know, we used to open the doors and put the sign out, and that was about all you could really... Remember the days of actually trying to count the number of customers that walked in. Goodness gracious, that used to be me. But now the data exists to work out very quickly how successful an individual has been today. And I rather like the analogy that was used with me a few months ago by a retailer who kind of said, I can now actually sit with each of the individuals in my organization and ask them to tell me what are they doing, which customer group is it aimed at, and what are the results that you're trying to achieve likely to be. And that isn't a strategic thing. It's an operational thing that will have a result at the end of today, or at the very least at the end of the week, so that we can see whether those energies are being well spent.

#### David Kohn

So I guess that leads to my question, which is, if that is the case, why are we still talking about this? You know, you and I both started digital 15, 20 years ago, why are we still discussing whether an organisation has a digital culture, whether it's digital enough?

#### David Worby

Yeah, I think it's a really good question. Maybe we're maybe we're not speaking loudly enough, or maybe the message isn't getting through. But I guess what makes it true is that digital is still by those that assess it through its revenue contribution, still the smallest part of my business. I'm sure for many of the people listening, they'll have maybe FDs and CEOs who still regard digital to be a small part of the business. Now, whether that's because it contributes a small percentage of the revenue mix, or whether it's a small percentage of the traffic or the eyeballs of the week or whatever it is, they still think of it that way. And therefore, the organization has a culture that pre-exists digital. So what's happening is digital teams are evolving through process of, as you mentioned, agility and iteration. That means they're developing their own cultures that sometimes don't sit naturally within the framework of a business culture. And that creates tension.

#### David Kohn

Yeah, and I think the other thing I would reflect on, and I've always hated the term silo mentality because I think it's overused and becomes a bit of a cliche. The way I prefer to look at it is people have got jobs to do, and most people want to keep their jobs as simple as they possibly can. So if you were a buyer, and you're used to buying for two seasons or three seasons, and you're used to buying in stock quantities and going to shops, suddenly you're faced with all of this data so this range isn't working, and I can tell you after two days, and I can also tell you what might make that range better. Suddenly, you've got a lot of opportunity, but that opportunity means a lot more work, and it means a different way of thinking about how you do your job. And the same is true for many functions within an organisation. It's probably true for every function in an organisation. So reorientating the organisation to incorporate the data they get from digital, incorporate the channels that digital offers, and incorporate this new way of thinking, which is more agile and dynamic, it's a challenge. It's not entirely straightforward. So maybe that's why we're still talking about it.

#### David Worby

And I think our predecessors maybe were wiser than we gave them credit for in the sense that they recognised this was going to have impact into the organisation. So let's just keep it in a discrete corner. Let's just keep it away from the rest of the organisation for fear that it kind of affects the wider organisation. But of course what we've realised is it ultimately becomes the organisation. I'm not saying that traditional retail is dead, of course. But most organisations recognise the need to become at least more digital, if not digital in itself. And therefore you're faced with the challenge that many of our listeners, I'm sure, are grappling with is when is the time to integrate digital back into the wider business? At what point is it everybody's job to think digital rather than just those experts on digital sat in the corner? Now my personal view on this is that there is a point, there is an inflection point at which the maturity of the organisation cannot continue without the whole organisation being digital. In our maturity model we talk about this as the inflection point. And many businesses have grasped it. Many businesses have disbanded their traditional digital business where they started and made it everybody's job to contribute to the digital consequence of the business. And I think there are success stories and maybe some others that we could point to that kind of suggest that point is not the same for every organisation. It's a very individual thing. Reaching a point of financial maturity and reaching a point at which potentially you start to see plateauing performance would suggest you've reached that point. But there are many other factors as well.

#### David Kohn

Yes, I think the question of what is the appropriate organisation structure is a complex one, but I agree with you that a digital understanding, at the very least, has to be part of everyone's role, whatever they do. The question of when it becomes an organisational change, I think, does depend on the extent to which digital is an integral part of what they do. And if I were to make a distinction, I'd say if I'm a finance department, I obviously want people to have a digital understanding. I want them to look at the way in which we spend our money in a slightly different way, potentially, than the way they might have done if we were putting a new store down or spending two million quid on a new range. If I'm in marketing, where this whole discipline has become increasingly digital, I think I want to see a more integrated approach. I want to see a single marketing department. And I'm speaking as somebody who my most recent business, we had a brand marketing department and we had a digital marketing department and we merged the two of them. Not entirely successfully, culturally, but we were certainly trying to move in the right direction.

#### David Worby

Yeah, I think one of the other factors I mentioned that there are any more that can affect that you just touched on it is the individuals. If the individuals are motivated in the right way, then you potentially have more upside than not. But if they're not, and they seek to return to traditional behavior, then it can be counterproductive for the organization to have, in effect, integrated everybody together. But if everybody's aligned around the same motivations and the same benefits that come from success, then that integration can ultimately be the fuel that drives the business to the next level.

#### David Kohn

Absolutely. And I also think there's, I mean, people often talk about an education process, but I think one shouldn't underestimate that the skills that are required, the requirements of the customer, the requirements of the channel may be different. So if I go back to my experience at Heels, we had a very good photography team, really good at choosing locations, really good at dressing them, really good at making our product look fantastic. For paper catalogs. Now, first challenge was what looks good in a paper catalog may not look very good on a website. So you've got to educate, you've got to learn how to create better creative material for that channel. Then suddenly you're looking at social, you're looking at both your organic social and your paid social thinking, okay, now I need some different creative material. Now I need maybe moving imagery. And it's not just a question of how do I feel about this? It's not just a question of, oh, this isn't what I like to do. It's a question of, I don't actually know how to do this. I've got to learn a whole new skill just when I thought I really knew what I was doing.

#### David Worby

That's a good analogy because I remember an organisation that I worked in that probably needs to remain nameless because they're still around, who used to insist that the digital team produce business cases for why in that scenario the photography team should go away and produce different types of photography for them. And I think that, you know, creating internal markets creates barriers and it also creates reasons not to do things. And I think organisations that require that to be completed before anything can change I think is maybe more than unfortunate.

#### David Kohn

And just to add a bit of unnecessary gloss on this, but again, if you have ever been to a photo shoot for furniture, you'll know that what you see is not what there is. You've got a tiny quarter of a room in a nice house that has been dressed, but everything around it is undressed, it's cameras, it's shelves, it's whatever it is. And so to move from doing static imagery to video imagery, it's practically more complicated. So it's not, as I say, it's not just a question of attitude, it's not just a question of skill. Sometimes you're introducing things which are gonna introduce more complexity and cost into your operation. And I'd also just like to say one other thing on this topic, which is we tend to spend a lot of time looking at how can digital bring itself, how can you make an organisation more digital? I think sometimes we forget how can a digital part of the business make itself more aware of what the business requires. And one specific area for me is around brand building. There are a lot of traditional skills in brand advertising when we used to do lots of TV and radio that I think have been lost in digital. Digital's so statistical, it's so methodical how you find your customer base, it's data-driven, I suppose. It's data-driven, exactly. And what we've lost a bit is that creative element that says, actually, you've got to tug at the heartstrings a bit more, you've got to capture the imagination. It's not just a numbers game. And I think as digital teams and as digital organisations, we really need to make sure that we bring some of those old traditional skills back into play.

#### David Worby

Yeah, I can see that. I mean, I think there's a slight pushback here in the sense that, you know, creating all these things cost money, and we have to have some confidence that our investments are going to return what we expect. And I think there have been in the past examples of where creativity for the sake of creativity doesn't necessarily drive value. But with data at our disposal, and with the notion of being able to iterate and test many things, combined with a truly creative approach, we should be able to get something that works. Maybe we should take a break here for a message from Asphaltic. Today's episode is sponsored by Better Commerce. Ever struggled with how to get your online store started, or feel like you've been left behind with old and dated technology? Well, Better Commerce offers a completely composable commerce stack that allows retailers to upgrade their technology with a combination of flexibility and out-of-the-box features. When better is available, good is not enough. Better Commerce, your composable commerce partner.

#### David Kohn

you How do you bring these new skills, these new thoughts, these new analyses, all of this data, how do you stop that making the business unnecessarily complicated? How do you, you know, we want things to be fast. How do we, how do we stop digital actually slowing things down?

#### David Worby

Yeah, I mean, I guess that's not a question I spend too much time personally thinking about,

#### David Kohn

I guess it's not

#### David Worby

although it's true that with infinite amounts of data and without the right tools to be able to work out what that data is saying, it could become ponderous to make decisions that are in the business' best interests. But I do think the second part of the title of this podcast was about kind of process. And I think, for me, process is, if you like, almost the unforgotten or rather the forgotten cousin here. And what we all hear about regularly is, I need to do something different. Either I need to do something I'm not doing. And therefore, I either need some technology to help me do it, or I need a person to do it. And for every time I've heard that in recent times, I thought to myself, just adding something into the mix without considering what I should take out of the mix is a bit of a miss. In other words, we can't keep doing more with less. Adding more in, whether it's technology or people, has to come with a corollary. And that corollary for me is making sure that your business processes are efficient. Now, apologies to everybody. It sounds really dull and really boring. But the process that is in my mind is the process that connects people and technology to the ambition that you've set. How efficient are they, or it, at getting from where they start to where you want them to be? It's often something we don't think about. And as we're iterative and we're layering more things to do on top of more things to do, there are frequent occasions when we should stop and reflect whether all of the things that we're continuing to do are still relevant and still adding value. It's almost like I've created 10 more things I want to do this week. So which five from last week am I no longer actually going to do? It's a bit of a housekeeping thing.

#### David Kohn

Well, David, that for me is more about focus, which I think we've talked about quite a lot when we were looking at business performance and driving how to drive performance. I thought you were driving in a slightly different direction there, which is looking at how we do certain things in order to, I don't know, cut steps out of the process, maybe to look at the workflow and make sure that different people that are responsible for those stages in the workflow get them done. I think you were giving me some examples earlier on.

#### David Worby

Yeah. Yeah, I think there's, in my head, we have people doing tasks that are largely defined by their job descriptions. And they do those tasks to the best, I think, of their ability given the tools that we give them. But there are times when they could be so much more efficient, not by giving them more technology necessarily, but by understanding the step-by-step process they go through in order to do it. Give an example of something that happened a while ago. Someone said to me, I can't do that until this batch run has completed at 4 in the morning. OK. So the traditional way of thinking is, right, so that person cannot now start until 4.30 in the morning or 5 in the morning when that batch process is finished. But let's evaluate why that batch process happens when it happens. Should it, could it happen at a different point? Which might make a whole 24 hours difference, or 23 and a half hours difference, to that person's ability to do their job in a timely manner. So getting under the skin of how you do what you do is, I think, probably a kind of forgotten art. And because we're so ready to add more things in and run faster and faster and faster, we're forgetting that some of the core things we do can be done so much more efficiently if we just occasionally stop, pause, and do a drains up on the workflow that's party to that kind of task.

#### David Kohn

Yeah, I mean, it's certainly one of the areas that where I think this is writ large is the whole process of getting products on the website. I'm guessing anybody that's worked within a multi-channel retailer or an e-commerce operation is aware of how difficult that is and how easy it is to blame another part of the organization for not giving you the descriptions or not putting the products into the ERP soon enough or not getting the photography. It's incredibly easy to down tools while you wait for somebody else to do something. And I think that's the sort of area where looking at your business process, mapping the workflow, if you can use a tool to identify that workflow so that everybody knows what they're responsible for at every given point in time, then you're able to make things significantly more efficient and you're able, in this particular case, to get products on the website in time.

#### David Worby

I think what sparked me off on this was five or six years ago when I first saw, when I saw for the first time kind of how product information management, otherwise known as PIM, workflow effectively brought the work to people rather than having to go and find it. It made me think, well, actually, if a simple workflow tool within a product information management system can increase the efficiency of an organization by delivering work to people in a transparent way so everybody could see exactly where we were at any point in time, how much more efficient could an organization be if the same was applied to a wider portfolio of tasks? And I think in retail particularly, we're quite deficient in this respect. I think if you go into engineering companies or you look at manufacturing companies, there is a greater degree of scrutiny and study of that process, and workflow is a baked-in, normalized kind of skill, whereas in retail we kind of haven't adopted it. We've just got lots of people and lots of technology, and best endeavors produce the results, slightly harshly.

#### David Kohn

I do think it's important to remember that you can't be entirely process- driven and there has to be a balance. Historically, I've tended to work in small, medium organisations and I've always taken great pride in how output- driven we were. I think we could have definitely been more process-efficient. I think if we'd stopped to think about things a bit more, we'd have got more out of the teams. We'd have caused less angst with other teams and third parties.

#### David Worby

Hmm. What we're grappling with there offline was the three pillars of how to resolve this kind of conundrum. One was about process, we've talked about that. We started talking about culture. I think the third bit is capability. And I think capability, we've talked about organizational structure, but clearly finding the right skill sets for things that are to some extent not entirely understood is an art form. And I know later in the series we're going to be talking about HR challenges and finding the right people for the things that are around the corner for us. But I think as part of this conversation we couldn't get away without mentioning the importance of capability.

#### David Kohn

Yes, and as I said, we did touch on the fact that new skills have to be learned in non-digital departments, if you like, and also within the digital departments. I think a good place often to start with this is to assess what are the skills that you need in order to do what you need to do. You would generally know where you're deficient, whether it's technical, whether it's commercial, whether it's creative, you'll generally have a pretty good idea. But as David said, I think we'll come back in a later podcast to how you go about building the right capability within your organisation.

#### David Worby

Yeah, I think we will. I think we might have a guest speaker for that in a few weeks time, that'll be good. Okay, look, time is pressing. We're getting near to the end of this one, but I just think we should wrap up for our listeners with, okay, that's all well and good, guys, but what do I do now? So I think this message is principally for those who believe that the culture in the organisation, if it was improved, broadened, could produce better results, and those maybe also who believe that getting under the surface of how their teams do what they do could equally yield some positive benefits that when collectively put together could be meaningful for the organisation. So what's our advice to people in terms of what they might want to think about next?

#### David Kohn

Yeah, the question I think that's underpinned a lot of our podcasts thus far is what are the things I should be focusing on? To what extent should I be bothered about how digital the culture is within my organisation? And I think I would start from a very simple place here, which is how well are you doing? How well are you doing through your digital channels? Are you performing well? And how well are you performing through your non-digital channels? That's a simple question. Do you think you're underachieving against your potential as a business and as a brand?

#### David Worby

Now I know we have a slight disagreement on this, which is a healthy one, because I'm a great believer in fixing the roof when the sun is shining. So if you're a business out there who's doing well, but you know that there are issues boiling around the culture of your organisation, or the tension between the wider business culture and your digital culture, or you believe that there's value to be had in understanding how the processes could be improved, I think now is the time to do it.

#### David Kohn

Indeed. David's somewhat more forward-looking than I am in these regards. I would never say that. I like to make hay while the sun shines. The second question I would ask is, and this is slightly, may sound like a

#### David Worby

Then

#### David Kohn

soft question, but is how happy are you and your team, how well are people working together? It's pretty easy to know if you're an organization and team where you always feel like you're being held back or your other departments in the business think you're holding them back. If you're a department where people are constantly arguing or at each other's throats, and it may be in the most pleasant way, then I think you know when you have to dedicate more time and energy to improving your digital culture. So I would take a little happiness measure, a little happiness check. If you're unhappy, if they're unhappy, probably means you've got to do something about it.

#### David Worby

Well, that sounds good. That sounds great to me. I think the final thing I would just add in before we wrap this one up is that this is maybe one of the more difficult things to do when you're immersed in the business and sometimes it's a little bit difficult to see the wood for the trees, particularly if you've been with the organization for a while. So if you've got an inkling that there's some value to be extracted, but you're not sure how to do it, then I think the best thing to do is to pick the phone up to a third party. Prospero exists, but many others do also. To give you a perspective on how to look at this, because I am a great believer that there's value to be had here, and in the current climate, I think anything that adds incremental value without adding too much incremental cost has surely got to be a good thing.

#### David Kohn

Yes, absolutely. I think you mentioned earlier on that we have a massive tendency when we're faced with a problem to reach for a technical solution. We think if we buy this piece of software, it's going to solve all our problems. We have an equally big tendency to say, I need more people in order to do this. In the current environment, neither of these arguments are going to be particularly popular. So the premise that you can solve things through more efficient processes and through thinking more digitally for having this more digital culture, it's got to be attractive because it's going to be a less costly, less disruptive way of achieving what you want to achieve.

#### David Worby

very good okay we're going to finish there I'm going to say thank you to my

thank you to my co-host, David.

#### David Kohn

Thank you

#### David Worby

Fantastic and we'll say thank you to our listeners and we hope you enjoyed that we'd love your feedback And we'd love to see you again on the next one

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