Business Maverick, Media, Multimedia, Sci-Tech

Dave Duarte and the importance of organisational culture

Dave Duarte and the importance of organisational culture

Digital marketing thinker Dave Duarte says businesses should pay at least as much attention to the culture of an organisation as to technological developments. By REBECCA DAVIS.

Digital Tools for Internal Branding was the title of Duarte’s seminar in Cape Town this week. Duarte, managing director of the Ogilvy Digital Marketing Academy, specialises in teaching organisations and individuals how to get with it, digitally speaking, but the focus of his seminar went beyond social media tricks to take in the importance of organisational culture to business.

Companies like Google or Goldman Sachs, he says, have clear internal brands: you walk into their offices and you know exactly where you are, based on their rituals, communication tones, artefacts and so on. While this notion is not as hip as social media is, the idea of internal branding is about to take off, says Duarte, so get on board while you can.

One aspect of organisational culture Duarte sees as important is allowing employees to follow their personal passions and interests in sideline projects. Duarte cited the example of Google’s policy of “Innovation Time Off”, whereby Google engineers are encouraged to spend 20% of their work time on projects that interest them. There are no hard and fast rules around this, though, so when projects are taken on, it is usually without a clear idea of time or resources to be devoted. Despite this, the policy is remarkably successful. In 2006 50% of all new product launches at Google came from projects hatched and developed during Innovation Time Off.

Of course, we don’t all work for Google, but Duarte stresses it is still worthwhile to devote time and energy to personal projects in the absence of a great deal of institutional support. “The most interesting innovations aren’t the ones we’re most confident about – they come from people scratching an itch,” Duarte says. Yuppiechef, Linux and Twitter were all originally sideline projects that ended up radically eclipsing their parent companies. “Be prepared to start small and hustle like hell,” Duarte warned. And don’t wait for total buy-in: just get on with it.

As regards the relationship between organisational culture and the digital realm, Duarte believes that, although technology has made changes to organisational culture, the leadership agenda has failed to take account of these. Some of Duarte’s ideas in this regard include:

The medium affects the message. In other words, be aware that people think and express themselves differently via different communications channels – so IM may be a better vehicle for certain types of conversation, and email superior for others. The more tech-resistant an individual is, the more likely they are to be committed to one single channel (like the CEO who insists on printing out emails to mark up by hand).

Technology brings distant people closer together, and pushes close people further apart. The advent of long-distance sophisticated communications technology enables us to speak more frequently and with greater ease than ever before to people who may be on the other side of the globe. By the same token, however, our reliance on digital forms of communication may also mean that we end up using technologies like Skype or IM to communicate with people sitting in the same office.

Cloud computing is the future. This is because the notion of institutional memory is changing entirely. Back when people stayed in the same job for 20 years, the memory of entire organisations was vested in a few people.

Single-tasking can be more valuable than multi-tasking. Duarte says studies have shown that media multitasking – switching between multiple browsers and tabs, for instance – amounts to a kind of temporary brain damage, where brain activity works with reduced speed and accuracy.

Breathe. Believe it or not, many of us suffer from a condition now known as “email apnoea”, where we unconsciously suspend our breathing while dealing with our emails as part of a response from our nervous system. Keeping breathing floods the system with dopamine and, well, life.

You don’t always need consultants. Often companies have vast armies of consultants they don’t realise they can draw on – their customers. If you let them, consumers are more than happy to tell you where you’re going wrong, Duarte says.

The best ideas don’t necessarily come from your “creatives”. Be open to ideas from other parts of your work chain, such as administration, accounting and HR. After all, they’re often the ones on the coalface, who have a lived understanding of how processes can be streamlined.

Think differently about employee social media policies. These days there is little point blocking employees from social media, Duarte says, because they are increasingly likely to simply hop on their smartphones. He suggests combing social media policies with education, and opening employee access to social media sites based on which level of training they have completed. Finish the first stage of training, for instance, and win the right to access social media sites in your lunch break; finish the second stage, and have this access extended, and so on.

In general, Duarte advises, get ready to experiment more within your organisation. “There are no gurus any more, and the future is increasingly uncertain,” he says. “My ability to succeed is proportionate to my own curiosity.” DM

Photo: Dave Duarte, managing director of the Ogilvy Digital Marketing Academy.


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