notes on change, from digital managers
At this month’s 501TechNYC meetup, I had the chance to meet about 50 colleagues in the non-profit tech field and present a version of our NTEN panel, “3 Faces of the Digital Manager,” originally given in April with Laura Brahm, Danielle Brigida and Yesenia Sotelo.
The worst part was not having my killer co-panelists from the NTC in Minneapolis. But the best part was spending the final 30 minutes brainstorming with the entire room. The assignment was to make a longer list of “words to live by” when managing digital change inside an organization.
For context, here’s the introduction to the NYC talk, followed by the list we built up together.
Every organization has a different “culture of tech,” and every web manager, digital strategist or social media editor uses a different approach to get things done.Your style for managing change is as important as your tools or your budget. And there’s no single best approach. Sometimes your colleagues need a tough leader to lift their online work to the next level. Sometimes they just want someone who will listen.A new digital strategy is only as good as the strategist who drives it and the organization’s comfort with change. Join us for a conversation about style and change management. When is it time to motivate your colleagues and when is it time to reassure them? For the next tech project, are you bringing cookies to the meeting, or a bullhorn?
Become a connector–since you probably already are one. Find the gaps between departments, approaches, and bridge them by getting people to articulate their needs, commiserate and brainstorm together.
Listen first before pushing for change. Get to know your audience of colleagues. Do what you can to create trust–in you and, if possible, in each other.
Be a translator. Know how to speak to your different audiences–staff, consultants and web users. Find the shared vocabularies that get people on the same page.
Be a diplomat. Charm it up. Show people how they are getting what they want –while making sure it’s the right thing to do.
Once you understand your colleagues’ incentives, create opportunities for victory–what the jargon-class calls “wins.” One way to do this is to “shrink” any sweeping promises of change.
Create quiet experiments, then use small successes to show what’s possible and get wider support. Along the way, downplay your own personality. The high-profile leader is only one face of the digital manager. There are others.
In the midst of a massive site redesign by Open Society Foundations, the Mule Design team told Laura, “Your colleagues need to like you more than they hate change.” Remember that you are a broker of new ideas, and people don’t always like brokers.
Be perseverant, be flexible and be realistic. A project may take longer than planned, morph along the way, get scaled down from an ambition to an adjustment. A lot of the time that’s okay.
Don’t just tell, teach. Managers of change walk a delicate line between promoting their approach and having too much to do. If you’re the only person who knows what you know, you’re either really lonely, or really busy, or both. To secure a better future for your work, Danielle advised the group at NTEN to spread your knowledge around. A good digital manager gets more people involved.
Create chances for colleagues to evolve together. It’s often better to have a shared vision than a master plan in the hands of one mastermind. To make sure the plan keeps evolving, think of change in an agile way, based on cycles of iteration, review and feedback that are also shared.
Don’t let failure be a project’s final step. During our NTEN session, Yesenia reminded the group that when a project meets poor results, or fails to launch, there is a lot to be learned and an opportunity to help your organization “fail forward.” The digital manager who can talk about failure leads at a higher level of credibility than the one who merely retreats.
In-person collaboration and organizational culture are often neglected when we talk about the best ways to integrate new tools into your ongoing work–we tend to focus on the tech opportunities not the organizational realities (much less the “largely subterranean” issues of style and personality).
For some very relevant advice from my friend Alexandra Samuel, see this blog from 2012, “A Social Media Evangelist’s Survival Guide.”