Digital Strategy Means Saying "No"

An organization’s digital strategy is contingent on so many different variables.

You need the technology infrastructure to run digital processes, you need data and insights to make adjustments, and you need staff with the right skills to run everything.

For a truly effective digital strategy, however, organizations also need to learn how to say “No.”

The ability to say no to unnecessary feature requests, meetings, reports, data points, and even customers can be the difference between a cohesive digital strategy, and… well, what struggling companies are doing.

Whether you’re building a digital strategy from scratch or trying to refocus an existing transformation project, we know it’s not easy, and we even provided several tips for overcoming stalled digital initiatives in our recent post Struggling With Digital Transformation? You're Not Alone. But today we’ll discuss another factor in the overall success of digital strategy—addition by subtraction.

Sometimes in order to go further and faster, you need to cut down on dead weight, even that weight represents something you’d like to have. For instance, when you go backpacking, it would be fabulous to bring an espresso coffee pot for that extra shot in the morning. But given the weight, its singular use, and the fact that it requires electricity, most backpackers opt for something like a Jet Boil and travel French press to do the trick.

Digital strategy can easily become bloated as the project wears on and things are added in—product reviews, feature requests, and endless other minutiae can cause you to stray from the original mission. Because digital projects do not happen overnight you’ll have to learn to weather these issues over the long haul by saying no… a lot.

In this post we’ll look at how ‘addition by subtraction’ can actually improve your long-term digital strategy and results.

Things You Need To Say No To

If you’re forming or implementing a digital strategy at your organization, there will not be any shortage of opinions of what should be in it. Every department will have their requests, from internal teams to customer-facing groups and everyone in between.

Here are some seemingly legitimate reasons for adding to your strategy that you will likely have to deal with at some point.

Note: Having a written digital strategy is a prerequisite of saying no to anything—if you don’t have your plan in writing, it’s far more difficult to explain why you’re turning somebody down.

“Our competitors are doing it”

Nobody ever did anything outstanding by following their competition. If Uber had bought a fleet of retired police-issue Crown Victorias, it wouldn’t be an app on your phone right now. Copying your competitors is not a legitimate strategy, yet it is constantly used as justification for business activity that may or may not be beneficial.

“Our customers are asking for it”

Perhaps even more common than following competitors is following the whim of your customers. Look—customer service is great, but if you’re using digital strategy to be innovative, what customers want today may be nowhere near where you need to be six months from now. Their interest or need may be fleeting, and suggestions made with emotion (like after a bad experience) don’t always hold water.

“This is just a small request”

Ah yes, the old “This will only take a minute” to implement. What the people who ask for these types of things don’t realize is that every request is like an iceberg—for every day of implementation, there might be weeks of support and maintenance. Sure, the software is cheap and only takes a few minutes to install, but then you:

  • Develop the training
  • Stop work to have employees go through the training
  • Test retention

And these are just a few examples. Every footstep off the stated path of digital strategy is one step closer to being lost in the woods asking yourself where you’re going.

“The data looks good”

This is perhaps the most compelling reason of all to consider requests off of your original strategy—the data supports this point. But data can be very easy to manipulate. Inexact polling, small sample sizes, and groupthink can all cause ‘data’ to stack up in favor of one point, which may be irrespective of the norm. Carefully examine the data sources when this claim is used.

How To Say No To Scope Creep

Having identified what to say no to, it’s time to find a polite way of doing just that. Remember—the ability to turn somebody down politely and professionally is the difference between a competitive yet healthy corporate culture, and a toxic work environment.

Show empathy - One of the more complex human emotions is the need to be understood. When somebody asks you for something that you know will never happen, slow down for a moment and ask where he’s coming from. Sometimes just taking the time to show the person you’re willing to listen understand his position is more important than actually delivering on his request. Sometimes.

Use first person - Stop saying “Your idea is terrible” or “What makes you think this is a good idea” to your colleagues. Take ownership of the situation and ask “I don’t understand this. Please explain to me how this fits the strategy—I’m all ears.” People sometimes feel attacked by the word “you” and can go on the defensive wand stray from the logic of their request.

Offer a challenge - Are neither of these working and the person is persisting? Throw down a challenge! Something like “I’ll tell you what—If you put together a data-backed presentation (off the clock) that convinces me this aligns with our written digital strategy, I’ll take it under serious consideration (or to a superior).” If she’s willing to fight for her idea outside of work hours, she might have something valuable you haven’t considered. More likely, however, is that the extra work will weed out those types of arguments.

Forming a digital strategy isn’t as easy as you might think, and neither is sticking to one. The only way to form a cohesive digital strategy is to arm yourself with the skills to complete your journey.

To help you with this, we have a free program called Digital Strength. This program is designed to give everyone within an organization – from the C-Suite to the production line – the guidance to achieve a digital transformation journey. Enroll today!

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