7 habits of highly digital people

Digital Transformation is an often invoked, but rarely understood set of buzzwords right now.

Normally it centres around the needs of an organisation to invest heavily in a new piece of technology that will be the answer to all their problems — resulting in untold riches, greater efficiencies and perhaps the end of all our jobs. More often than not, this position is promoted by people who have a fairly vested interest in these pieces of digital kit.

In reality, the organisations that are doing this type of thing really well, understand that digital is not about technology but about the skills and behaviours of your people. As with all organisational change, you need to start with the individuals that make you who you are — or you’re just wasting valuable resources.

So here are a few thoughts on the types of behaviours that really ‘digital’ people exhibit. This is in no way to suggest that you can’t be successful at your role without these habits — just that those who have a real digital approach to their jobs tend to display them…

It’s also worth noting, that as with all skills, all of these come more naturally to some people than others. As has always been the case, the truly exceptional individuals work to improve the areas they find harder, whilst being confident in their natural strengths.

1. They look to data to help solve problems, without relying on it

This doesn’t mean you have to be a data scientist to come to work every morning. But it does mean that you probably need to make the effort to understand a few key stats when trying to solve a problem. At the very least, if you’re not comfortable with a well designed Google Analytics dashboard, you have some work to do.

That being said, we all know there are a million different ways to cut any single piece of data. Those who get to be very comfortable with stats, see them as a single input to the problem to be solved rather than the one and only way to make a decision.

2. If in doubt, they check an idea with users ASAP

User habits are changing so quickly, it’s hard to keep up. 4 years ago contactless payment was an untested technology which people didn’t trust. As soon as it was implemented in Pret, that all changed and now huge swathes of people are happy to use it in their corner shop, public transport system and perhaps for charity donations.

This pace of change is what has driven the renewed focus on testing ideas with users. It has always been a good idea — with marketing campaigns from even the most Mad Men of eras presented to real people to understand their effectiveness. However, now it tends to be the starting point for most ideas rather than the thing that is done at the last minute before going live.

People who buy into this, will be happy to go onto the street, iPad in hand and get some unbiased thoughts just off initial sketches. They’ll then try their best to get input from people at every stage of the process, to check that the conclusions they’ve come to line up with users’ needs. This doesn’t mean they have to follow the feedback blindly, but again, it’s an important input into how decisions are made.

3. They communicate to the point of annoyance

When running a project or developing a product, the most forward thinking of people tend to extoll transparency above all other project management techniques. Whether it’s a scrum board that’s open for anyone in the office to visit, an online roadmap for the whole organisation to comment and vote on or a demo to which all can attend, showing everyone what’s happening is their starting point.

This doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a serious need for engagement at an individual level — too often do I see people say, “well they can look at the roadmap or visit the scrum board.” Walking into another team’s part of the office can be a scary thing and without context cards on any roadmap are pretty meaningless. The best people understand this and give lots of different ways for people to engage whilst also lending a helping hand.

4. They learn from what just happened through reflection

Someone at a big supermarket once told me, ‘We love retros, I think that if it were up to us we’d do them all day’. You’ve got to wonder what they’d end up talking about after a little while, but I think many could see where he’s coming from. In digital teams, a retro tends to be a meeting where you look at what happened in your most recent period of work (possibly a 2 week sprint) and tackle issues that arose whilst recognising what you can learn from what went well.

Again, this is not a new concept — campaign wash ups have happened for ever — but digital people want to do this constantly, as there is usually an ability to improve things fairly immediately in digital channels given their flexibility. This behaviour is not just limited to retrospectives — they are more likely to write blog posts or speak at conferences too. They see this as a way to consolidate the things that they have learned into more formal pieces of content.

5. They start small, test, iterate and repeat

People often talk about failing fast, but in my experience it’s much better to fail cheaply. A lot of digitally minded people get this and work to get their team comfortable with trying things out that may well go wrong.

This isn’t always the easiest culture to create and can be even harder in a large organisation that rewards short term success, but it can be done. Those working in digital understand the value of it, given how much of the work they do is exploratory and subject to change.

Once they’ve found something that doesn’t work, they continually plug away at improving it an inch at a time. They get used to ignoring ‘big bets’ and instead focus on the hard work which gives sustainable progress over the long term.

6. They are comfortable with ambiguity

This may be one of the biggest differences I’ve noticed in younger, more digital employees. For those that have grown up in a period of such instability and change, it’s hardly surprising they have had to adapt to become comfortable with not knowing what’s coming next.

7. They know when to switch off

Despite all that is written about people constantly checking their phones being directly related to the end of society as we know it, more and more people are taking an active approach to unplugging.

Practices such as mindfulness have never been more popular — and there’s increasing evidence that the ‘digital natives’ that we hear about, actually have a healthier relationship with their devices than those of us caught between the old world and the new…