How To Build a High-Performing Digital Team
August 23, 2013 Editor 0
Digital skills are in high demand and short supply. But first things first — how do you define a digital team when nearly everything is digital?
Digital teams are responsible for developing, testing, and implementing a strategy to reach and engage target audiences through digital channels like web, mobile, and social. While other groups may draft the messaging, a digital team works hand-in-hand with marketing and product leaders to curate and create digital-first content strategy. Most often reporting through the CEO or CMO, digital teams may also be responsible for implementing cross-channel analytics, surfacing relevant emerging trends, and providing comprehensive guidelines. As institutions have weathered the seismic communications shift from managed brand broadcast to real-time community interaction, digital teams have stepped in to manage listening platforms and identify opportunities for engagement. Finally a successful digital team will build a strong partnership with IT, who owns critical technology infrastructure and associated services.
Now that we’ve defined the team, how the hell do you hire for it? Your general hiring practices still apply: intelligence, energy, and above all integrity. In my 15+ years building digital capabilities in startups, agencies, and the enterprise, and most recently as the Chief Digital Officer at Harvard University, I’ve seen some consistent traits emerge. Here are six attributes to consider when sourcing talent for a high-performing digital team:
1. People who are omnivores, not vegans. Digital is part technology, part content strategy, part marketing art — and science. People who very strongly identify with only one piece of the equation will struggle on a high-performing digital team. Over the past decade skills within digital teams have merged even further. For example, years ago there was a tidy division between the wireframe creators and front-end developers. As development has become quicker and less costly, more prototyping occurs in code. People who are used to throwing their deliverable over the transom and clocking out — a familiar paradigm in print production — may have trouble tolerating the shifting sands of digital.
2. People who understand a website launch is only the beginning. Focusing solely on a website launch is a bit like planning for your wedding more than your marriage. Smart project managers and content strategists will force you to create personas and walk through use-case scenarios that test workflow and resource assumptions. “Who updates that feature? How? Where does that video clip come from?” Team members should all be aware of desired analytics results like increased sales or reduced transaction steps that will be measured at intervals post launch. Here’s a test: if the job candidate can speak compellingly about the launch collateral but less than fluently about the digital product’s six-month analytics proof points, beware.
3. People who recognize that design is a differentiator. A unique idea for a digital product or service is surprisingly rare, and design excellence is often the differentiator. Understanding of design is not only a belief in the value of a strong initial concept, but also adherence to the belief that multiple small design decisions add up to a significant user experience impact. This requires a level of attention to detail, and a belief in the value of microinteractions. Everyone on your digital team — not just the designers — should be able to wax effusive about a digital product design they love, and point to the specific attributes that make the design work.
4. People who are comfortable with uncertainty and can act with agility. Everyone who claims to have a five year digital strategy is lying. You aren’t shopping for team members who can predict the future — you are looking for people who can make smart decisions based on limited information, and cut their losses when they fail. Changes can start from the technology, like Google releasing Penguin or Twitter changing its API. Or change can originate from the product team, who sees a usage pattern shift and needs to change course. In any event, a bias toward smart-step action rather than becoming mired in analysis is vital for a digital team.
5. People who eat the dog food, willingly and visibly. Digital team members do digital stuff. They put their band’s recordings online. They write and share online book reviews. They participate in social networks from Spotify to LinkedIn. Skeptics take note: it takes less time to write a tweet than to tie a Windsor knot. Of course, the greater the level of responsibility in the workplace, the less time people have to create content and engage online. And gender and culture matter in the level and kinds of participation. But you’ll find that the best candidates make some time for their digital lives, to see firsthand the benefit and the costs.
6. People who bring varied perspectives, earned from experience. Digital’s new compared to print, but it’s been around long enough for strong candidates to have work experience that’s varied in both role and organization. Look for people with experience delivering software product, toiling on the agency side, and juggling on the client side. Software team experience will give them a thick skin and an always-be-shipping mindset; agency dynamics will teach flexibility and how to handle a crunch; and client roles will provide organizational, stakeholder, and vendor management skills. Varied experience can lead to a kind of multilingualism, making team members able to view problems from others’ perspectives and find creative solutions.
Hiring is hard. Building a team is harder. Each addition is a potential win for the culture, or a proverbial bad apple. I’ve found that using your hiring best practices, and zeroing in on the attributes above results in a digital team that delivers.
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