How to Identify Digital Governance Models

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FIR On Strategy with Andrea VascellariThis is part of a series of posts that explores the “Adaptive Digital Strategy Framework” , an operative guide that I created to plan, execute and manage online strategy programs more effectively and efficiently. Each of post of this series comes with an audio podcast in which you will find the audio version of the post with additional audio commentary about the discussed topics. The name of the podcast is “FIR On Strategy with Andrea Vascellari”.

We have already explored the main governance models that describe how organizations are internally structured to embrace new media and emerging communication technologies. If you are not familiar with digital governance models, before moving on, I encourage you to read/listen to my previous post/cast. You will learn more about existing digital governance models and about the “Temporary Decentralization Model”, a model that I created and that it’s extremely helpful to analyze and solve specific strategic problems that can’t be solved by a single unit, by the top management or by the center of excellence alone.

Ok, ready? Let’s get cracking.

We get digital governance models, what’s next?

After I introduce an internal team to the different digital governance models, even if it’s the first time they hear about such models, the characteristics of each model are clear to them. The problems start to emerge when it’s time to analyze, vote or decide on which model they think they are or want to be in. In general it’s very difficult for them to come to an agreement. This usually translates into a waste of time and productivity.

This is a problem that I still see constantly faced by internal teams in large but also in mid-sized organizations, so I decided to dedicate an additional post to this topic. Today I’m going to share with you a specific methodology that I use and that will help you define more efficiently and accurately your digital governance model.

The Methodology

“How can we understand which model we actually have in place, or we should aim at, in our organization?”

The methodology that I use to identify digital governance models consists in analyzing first what we have in place in an organization by looking at specific factors, and then to think about the actual governance model that responds to the characteristics that emerged from this analysis.

I defined four factors that characterize each digital governance model. Focusing on these factors helps you define more efficiently, and accurately, your governance model, or the one you are aiming at:

1) Depth: This is the level of digital decentralization. It helps you recognize to which level the management understands and adopts digital communication technologies (i.e. social media) as part of the overall communication strategy of the organization.

I’ve noticed that SMEs – small and medium enterprises – don’t decentralize much of their digital responsibilities. Usually there’s just one unique online voice/presence for the company, generally managed by one individual. This is because these organizations are small. Their technology infrastructure is stable but implemented on a small scale so there’s no space for a larger implementation. On the other hand, in large organizations we have more depth, hence a higher level of decentralization. The adoption of digital is usually more structured but there’s the need of support by the top executives to ensure that it’s adopted and implemented correctly.

A couple of questions that you should ask yourself and that will help you understand the depth level in your organization are…

  • Helpful questions: To which management level is digital adopted? Does authority go hand in hand with digital adoption?

2) Orientation: This is about where the digital responsibilities are distributed across the organization. It defines in which areas an organization needs to implement, is implementing, or intends to implement, digital communication technologies.

I’ve seen different ways of doing this. Some organizations decentralize and implement digital communications based on specific functions (leads generation, customer support, etc.) or on geographical areas, others do it based on a product/market combo. It changes a lot depending on the sector (private/public) and on the industry in which the organization operates.

  • Helpful questions: Where digital communication can help us the most? Where do we need it?

3) Integration: This is about understanding how digital is, or will be, integrated in the different operative units of the organization.

What I’ve learned is that integration sounds scary because it represents change. And even if I said “change” and not “revolution”, integration is something that make people think, especially executives and organizations that are not familiar (yet) with digital. This is understandable because embracing new media and emerging communication technologies is something that usually brings with it also new challenges for the organization but, if done right, the integration of digital doesn’t compromise but actually enhances the communication and the relations existing between a specific unit, other units that are connected to it, and the top management. So, whether you are and external consultant, communicator, or and in-house strategist for an organization, keep this in mind when you will introduce and evaluate digital governance models.

  • Helpful questions: How well digital is, or will need to be, integrated among the different units of the organization?

4) Specific Relevance: By examining the first three factors we get a general analysis of the role that digital plays in the organization. Now we have to understand whether the digital responsibilities can be extended to a specific unit or not. This is what we should ultimately focus on. Each unit must be aware of its responsibilities and it needs to handle them correctly.

The most valuable thing that I’ve learned over the years from evaluating this fourth factor is very simple but extremely important: if the resources are not well allocated, the responsibilities will start to be delegated even further from unit to unit. This results in a chain reaction effect that often decreases the overall performance instead of improving it.

You have a large organization, a high level of decentralization, you understood where digital communication can help you the most, how it will need to be integrated in that specific unit. Good. Now, can you actually do it? This is what this forth factor makes you focus on. Because once you extend responsibilities to a unit, it’s done. So you want to make sure that everything is in place for them to handle it properly. If not, you have work to do.

  • Helpful questions: Is it possible to decentralize digital responsibilities to a specific unit/department/division? Are human and financial resources sufficient to support the digital efforts?

Once you evaluated these four factors you have done the tough part and it will be easier for you and your team to define on which model you think you are or want to be in.

The Takeaway

Thanks to this methodolgy that I shared with you in this post, organizations can reduce the guesswork and increase their decision making efficiency to start defining, or improving, their digital governance models.

Now, remember our first post in this series when I was describing the macro bird’s eye view of where our process lies? Well this is one of the moments in which you are probably starting to connect the dots. The more we’ll move on with this series, the more everything will start to make more sense.

You see, with this series I don’t want to give you worthless tactical tips – the web is full of “silver bullet lists”. Here we are looking at a bigger picture, a functional framework. Step by step, I’m aiming at giving you a solid bag of knowledge to help plan and execute more efficiently your communications plans. As communicators and strategists, taking the time needed to focus on these elements is fundamental. It’s the only way to ensure that organizations are ready to move forward and to support at best their communication initiatives.

With this series of posts take all the time needed to get it right. This is just one of the stops we are taking in our journey. At a certain point or another I’m sure that these notions that I’m giving you, will help you. They actually helped me a lot in my career. I just wish that instead of spending years to discover and define them, someone would have simply lined them up for me like I’m doing now with you. This is why I hope you will treasure them and get the best out of what I’m sharing with you.

Your thoughts

This methodology is based on my experience. What would you add to the list? And how would you see it working?  Would you approach this differently? What have I missed? Let me know in the comments.

Andrea @vascellari
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