Digitally mature management?

As I have said before I think one of the great achievements of the Government Digital Service, and the report from Martha Lane Fox that spawned it, isn’t the commitment to open source/standards or recruiting such a great team of designers and developers (though they are both great) but the fact that Mike Bracken was hired and installed at a genuinely senior level.

My favourite bit of the Tom Steinberg talk at #ukgc12 was when he talked about the need to get more digitally savvy people in senior posts. He was actually pretty pessimistic about it happening any time soon despite the progress with the GDS and unfortunately I think he is probably right but it is something I feel we have to strive for.

One of the key themes in Euan Semple‘s new book (which I will review later) is just how much this new digital landscape changes the way organisations should run. Relationships between managers and staff changes, internal communications are turned on their head and the implications for things like hardware and information security are radically changed. All of this requires real understanding and flexibility to implement with leadership from the highest level. If real change is going to happen it can’t continue to be a bottom-up revolution (at least in my opinion – I know alot of people who disagree.)

In the 12 years or so I have been running websites in the public sector (and one look at my CV will prove I have taken a reasonable sample!) my position in the organogram has never really changed (though to be fair my salary has!). In each and every job it broke down something like this;

The big boss
– a senior person with a large portfolio who sat on board or equivalent
– – the person who ran the Communications team (or occasionally IT team – both always this level)
– – – the web/digital manager (til 2002 this is where the chain ended)
– – – – the web/digital team who do the actual work! (post 2002 for the most part)

So in my long, if less than illustrious, career as a web manager I have never even worked directly for a manager who sat at a board equivalent (in fact I’ve never known a Comms or IT person to sit at that level at any of the places I’ve worked at..) let alone a digital person (which isn’t the same as IT or Comms as I’m sure anyone reading this knows but still needs explaining to many people!).

Some organisations have a ‘flat’ enough culture that you can make change from further down the ladder – and certainly at JISC there was a time I felt alot was possible – but I have come to learn that that isn’t the norm and even with very supportive managers (which I have been fortunate to have more often than not) it is very hard to make real cultural change and instead the focus becomes short-term wins.

Given how rare it is that even well established roles like Communications or IT have made it to a truly senior level I think it is going to require a serious step change for digital to make an impact at the level – but if we really are shifting to a ‘digital by default’ world then it has to happen at some point.

Whether this requires a C-level equivalent post for Digital (which is particularly popular in media companies increasingly not to mention New York City) I don’t know – maybe it just needs more digitally aware people in existing roles further up the ladder. More believers and fewer nay-sayers. Maybe.

One the things Steph and others were working on at day 2 of #ukgc12 was this idea of a “maturity model for digital in the public sector” and I think this is a helpful step in moving digital out of a bit of a geek ghetto in public sector organisations and into the mainstream but like @pubstrat tweeted yesterday;

Digital maturity is when you don’t need to say digital any more.

It is only when the possibilities and thinking is that embedded that we will have really got somewhere.


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