Building a High-performing Digital Team
May 6, 2021
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 do you hire for it? Your general hiring practices still apply: intelligence, energy, and above all integrity. Here are five attributes to consider when sourcing talent for a high-performing digital team:
Jack of All, instead of Master of One
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.
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.
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.
People who willingly get down to the streets
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.
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.
How do we get everyone working together?
The optimal structure for digital teams varies from organization to organization. But one way to approach the task is by using a base framework that identifies 15 key roles or competencies that are part of creating and operating most digital properties.
Those roles are divided into two conceptual teams:
The Digital Business Team
- Digital Business Vision Ownerdefines the key business measures and objectives for the digital property, including target market segments and their objectives. This visioner makes final decisions on product direction.
- Product Managementowns the product on a day-to-day basis, and liaises with other areas to make sure the digital value proposition is realized. They’re responsible for commissioning and reviewing customer research to develop and maintain the product roadmap in terms of the business vision, and can prioritize the backlog of changes and improvements.
- Program Management— distinct from the Product Management — is responsible for owning the long-term plan to achieve the product roadmap, including budgets and resource allocations, and for maintaining the release schedule.
- User Interface/User Experience(UI/UX) is responsible for the overall look and feel of the digital product. They develop and maintain UI standards to be used as the product is developed, are involved in user testing, and QA new releases.
- Content Developmentcreates non-campaign and non-marketing or editorial content for the site, including articles, instructions and FAQ or help content. Their job is to create content that’s easy to understand and consistent with the brand or voice of the product or site.
The Extended Business Team
- Marketingis responsible for some key digital operations. They develop offers and campaigns to drive traffic. They manage email lists and execution, and manage and maintain the CRM system.
- Product and Pricingis responsibility can vary, depending on industry and type of digital property. When appropriate, they develop, license or merchandise anything sold on the site. They set pricing and drive requirements for aligning digital features with any new products based on those product’s parameters.
- Operationsis responsible for fulfillment of the value proposition. For commerce sites, for example, this includes picking, packing and shipping orders. For something like a digital video aggregation site, responsibilities include finding, vetting and uploading new video content.
- Business Developmentis focused on creating partnerships that increase traffic and sales or find new streams of revenue.
- Customer Supportis responsible for maintaining knowledge of digital platforms, policies, and known issues and solutions. They assist customers with problems and questions and track customer interactions to report on trends and satisfaction levels.
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.