After spending over two years working across the brands of Viacom on the latest trends and insights surrounding social media and Social TV, I am on the job hunt for the first time in a while. In conversations with present and potential peers, friends, mentors and managers I am often asked a typical question along the lines of “so what do you think we should do in our company?” I find myself not responding with digital strategy ideas but rather a rant about corporate silos, misaligned reward structures, turf battles and the organizational structure overall.
The key bottleneck to growth of several large companies formed in the 20th century is their org structure. They’re leaving money on the table, not maximizing the potential of their resources, brand and intellectual property as key cultural-digital trends continue disrupting old ways of extracting profit from their core business (whatever the core business might be).
This is because the way many companies think of the “digital revolution” (to put it in as generic a term as possible) is via an org structure from at least 15 years ago. When the Internet was first coming into its own, companies knew they needed to build “digital” teams. This usually meant building websites and then mobile apps.
These “digital” teams were created away from the core business and are seen as marketing vehicles for that core business (many also report into heads of marketing). The money invested, the value extracted and the impact overall of these “digital” teams is usually small compared to the core business.
The problem is that these days its clear that the potential for “digital” to inform, infuse and impact the core business is much greater than it was last century and even last decade. The way society thinks of and uses the Internet and social media, the evolution of hardware, bandwidth speeds, storage space and so many more factors are affecting our culture and economy in massive ways. Strategies to understand and capitalize on these fast-changing trends can inform so much more than just marketing.
The typical corporate structure, created under a different understanding of “digital,” is very hard to shake up. These teams are run by senior executives whose career paths were charted by building scalable websites and associated technologies. Many (not all) are “web 1.0” executives in a “social 3.0” world. They know how to keep servers online and the web development process smooth. Justifying the continued existence of their teams and budgets, these executives survive by regularly redesigning sites, launching new apps and widgets and reporting to superiors on pageviews, ad inventory and increases in followers/likers.
Most of the people overseeing “old world” senior digital executives aren’t savvy enough about cultural-digital trends to ask the tough questions that need to be asked. The questions they should be asking have less and less to do with those regular reports on pageviews and likes. They should be asking larger-scale questions and beginning to plan for the fundamental shifts of resources and processes necessary to align corporate plans and the core business for capitalizing on the true potential of the innovation economy.
The impact and potential impact of current trends on the core business of large companies born in the 20th century require analysis by people outside of the current corporate structure and especially outside of the current “digital teams.” I’m advocating for a new role of “Digital Consigliere” to help senior-most, non-digital executives, investors and board members understand, interpret and act upon what they should be asking and what they’re hearing.
From my experience at large media companies, I think we’re already seeing the birth of The Great Storytelling Revolution but strongly believe these trends have weight across industries. These were some of the key ideas that informed a think tank gathering I convened two months ago and summarized in The Story of The St0ry.
Within a few years we’ll find it quaint that there used to be separate “digital teams” who were responsible for “doing digital.” There will be a much tighter integration between digital natives and non-traditionally-digital teams responsible for the core business. Insights from the digital revolution will force a shift of silo and reward structures, as efforts will be aligned in ways that many current structures simply don’t empower. This is obvious within digital-first companies and start-ups but will become just as obvious to large, 20th century-born companies as well.