A business case for diversity in digital transformation

digital transformation

By Kristian Strøbech, {grow} Community Member

Earlier this year I launched an on-site course to teach a Danish news organization advanced research methods in social media. Little did I imagine the janitor would steal the show. Stumbling into unexpected goodness is such a treat!

Our story begins when a regional Danish television broadcaster, TV 2 Nord, booked me for a series of workshops. They wanted the sessions to have a broad internal impact and were intrigued by the “mixed-staffers approach” — everybody was involved in the training.

To my mild surprise they not only went along with it, but radically so. On the first of the on-site training classes, joining me in the conference room were a handful of journalists, a couple of editors, a producer, a production assistant, two camera operators, one guy from the technical support team and Mikkel, who presented himself as the janitor. This was unusual, but of course fine.

The janitor rules

As the morning progressed and we were diving into advanced Facebook search (which includes a fair bit of URL hacking), I noticed with satisfaction that Mikkel breezed through the technical stuff as did most of the others. In fast, Mikkel was helping others understand the lessons. The day went well, both the methodology elements and the planned discussions about digital media challenges and news content strategies.

Reflecting on it, as I was driving home, I couldn’t help smiling, because Mikkel the janitor had turned out to be a positive and even dominant presence in the room, technically skilled, with insight and good, sharp questions. I don’t want to sound prejudiced and of course I also have great respect for the other contributions from his colleagues. But without question, Mikkel stole the show. Who would have guessed the TV station’s janitor would assert himself as the most valuable asset in a class on research techniques.

I wasn’t particularly surprised when I googled him in the evening and found out that in his spare time, he runs a webshop for sports equipment. To me that is just proof of how profound the internet has upended not only business models, content distribution, and consumer behavior, but also the workplace skill set hierarchy as we know it.

The business case for technology and diversity

The next day, as a new group of people were settling into the conference room, a woman, Mette, came up to me and a bit apologetically explained that she was a worker in the lunchroom, and also worked as a cleaning lady. Was it OK for her to attend my session? Once again, Mette did just fine, holding her own with the senior members of the staff, even those with advanced experience and degrees.

I think this wild diversity added an unexpected psychological element to the process that actually aided the learning environment.  When a colleague who is normally serving your lunch is suddenly busy learning a new cool digital tool right across from you, it’s difficult for people higher in the organizational hierarchy to display anything other than eager curiosity toward the lessons, too.

Introducing cultural change to an established organization is quite difficult.  Journalists in particular can be an angst-ridden group!  And understandably so … their jobs are at risk and year in year out they are presented with new digital strategies that are always pressing, but often also unclear. Their trade is under fire from painful disruption in an age where just about anyone with a smartphone and access to the internet can be a competitor.

But in these sessions, I am also convinced that the foot-dragging I expected quickly evaporated, at least in part, due to the eclectic mix of job functions.

I am not done processing this whole experience and what it means for my course work going forward, but let me share another valuable insight from this assignment.

In our drive toward digital transformation, why wouldn’t we not just involve all employees, but let them lead where appropriate?

A new transformational model?

Another star in the class was Jimmy, a young IT support guy, who immediately took to the social media research and monitoring tools. As he became more confident in this class of senior leaders, he began to teach the senior colleagues and actually contributed improvements to my portfolio of tools and methods.

Once the class was completed, his job function requires no further mentoring and it seems like a shame that his talents could not be employed routinely and consistently in the organization. Simply by using the full skills of the janitors, kitchen workers and support staff, this organization could probably reduce the cost of its outside consultants!

The idea of reverse mentoring is not new, but this experience opened my eyes to the possibility or unleashing every corner of the organization to acquire new digital superpowers.

This is not just a feel good story about peripheral feel good outcomes. I believe there is real tangible value to this type of training approach and I am convinced it’s a model worth exploring and developing further.

I would be very curious as to your reflections and any similar or related experiences.

screenshot-2016-11-22-07-49-10Kristian Strøbech is an associate professor at the Danish School of Media and Journalism. He teaches, trains, consults, and writes about digital, mobile and social media.

Illustration courtesy Flickr CC and Donald West.

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