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Culture Clash: Analog vs. Digital

You are an executive of a certain age and your company is continuously expanding its digital presence. Unfortunately you are not as informed or comfortable with all the new tools and devices as you ought to be. “I know what Twitter is but I don’t understand its value at all.” “I leave all that new fangled stuff to the 30 somethings.” You’re not a luddite but you are not as savvy as the business needs you to be.

Do you…

  • Hire some of the best and brightest people in the digital field to get your business into the 21st century but glaze over when they present strategies and initiatives?
  • Actively or passive aggressively shoot down the ideas of the digital staff…mostly because you don’t understand what they are talking about or want to hold on to your traditional/comfort zone ways?
  • Lobby against moving forward in executive team meetings because of cost or potential roadblocks or some other objection…that still comes back to your discomfort?
  • Know that moving parts of the business onto screens is the right thing to do and surround yourself with the right talent and let them run with it?
  • Learn as much as you can about this space because you know that the future of your business depends on it?

When I look around at executive teams they all agree that multiple digital moves are critical to the business…even if it is just internal operational efficiencies. But moving from “we must commit” to actually paving the way and implementing is a very rocky journey. I was thinking about this when I heard that the Motorola cell phone division was getting sold again (to Lenovo this time). I was doing work for them in the aftermath of making the misguided decision not to go digital when the rest of the world made that play in the 90’s. Long story short, this previously iconic and amazing brand has been reorganized, broken up and sold off. Very sad story. And yet they had brilliant employees who invented great products who warned them to go digital. But the execs at the top made a fatal decision.

2014 is a different era and there is little debate anymore about moving things to screens or paperless or whatever the technology innovation is that fits the industry. That said, executive teams still struggle with making the proper investments and decisions. My observation is that very few execs feel comfortable in this digital space. That discomfort makes them feel less competent, wise and in control. And when someone feels like that some bad…but normal… things can happen. It is natural for us all to have knee jerk reactions that are attempts to reassert our dominance in an uneasy situation. (fight or flight) So the ultimate challenge is to face down the icky feelings.

Executives need to be openly curious about the new technologies. Learn as much as possible or get close to the experts. When the techies are making presentations that you don’t understand, ask a zillion questions. When you are reviewing budgets and the digital group asks for funding engage in serious conversations. Go to your innovation council meetings and find out how each proposal could help the business. In other words, lean into it rather than avoid it. If you don’t, several things can happen.

  • Your business will lag behind in some significant ways. Even the savings from efficiency spending can be big. But delaying good strategic commitments could cause you to go the way of Motorola.
  • You will lose the very talent that will create a sustainable future for the company. They won’t hang around to make a small dent in the business approach. Their phones are ringing off the hook and they will leave. Count on it.
  • Because many older businesses are in the transitional phases (moving to screens) the talent feels like the stepchild who just can’t get the proper resources or attention. We will end up with all the new tech folks concentrated in tech companies (sic. Google). Even though guiding these companies into the new age is incredibly challenging and exciting these folks won’t stick around if they are not fed.
  • The generational divide within your company will get more pronounced. It will become more difficult to attract young talent of any kind if you are perceived as out of step.

So even if you never learn how to use Twitter, get curious and open your mind and your budget. Invest in people who know what they are doing and have a different (and likely smarter) view of the future. Stop sounding like an old person. You’re too young for that.

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