Designing a Digital/Internet Department to Redesign an Organization


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Many managers have wished for the opportunity to "blow up" their departmental organizational charts and simply start over. Join one manager who did just that, taking an Internet department in crisis from ruin to riches in one year, making sound critical decisions as well as some major mistakes along the way. This session will provide practical advice on building upper-level support for a departmental reorganization, developing departmental structures to meet organizational strategic goals and objectives, and creating flexible job descriptions that demand needed skill sets but can evolve over time. We\'ll also discuss recruiting, selecting, hiring, and mentoring key staff as well as building a collaborative team of individual star performers, using departmental policies, procedures, and processes to model organizational change. You\'ll also learn how to identify similar (and dissimilar) teams and skill sets in other departments that will complement and extend the impact of your own department and how to use this "extended" departmental structure to drive organizational growth and change management in the service of your organizational mission. Lastly, we\'ll talk about how to evolve toward your ideal departmental structure even if you cannot start from scratch.


1. You\'ll learn that building a department from scratch is not simple or easy and the mistakes and missteps you should avoid.
2. You\'ll discover how to tie your departmental structure tightly & practically to your organization\'s strategic goals and objectives.
3. Find out why successfully modelling and executing integration within your own department builds credibility and confidence within your organization.

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Designing a Digital/Internet Department to Redesign an Organization

  1. 1. Behind and Beyond the Org Chart: Designing Your Department to Redesign Your Organization David Nickelson, PsyD, JD
  2. 2. Name, Date | Page #2 Brief Bio  American Diabetes Association – • Fund Raise (Special Events) • Donate (Direct, Honor, Memorial, etc.) • Advocate (Federal, State and Local – – (Nov. 1, 2010)  Director, Internet Strategy & Operations – 2007 – Present – Began as “Online Services”
  3. 3. Name, Date | Page #3 The Yin and the Yang of Things  The challenge – Execute electronic communications and marketing within an organization that is siloed, unable to cooperate and collaborate, struggling with priorities, with different business units focused on very different and sometimes competing objectives.  The opportunity – Visitors expect an organization’s web site to be a seamless, transparent brand experience, integrating information delivery, communications, and transactions into a coherent, easy-to- understand, easy-to-use whole.
  4. 4. Name, Date | Page #4 Somewhere in the middle….  …is a place where the numbers demonstrate that human and technological integration can deliver better results.  From that place, a department can model and even drive organizational change and integration.  What does it take? – The right people, – in the right places, – on the right team, – ready for anything.
  5. 5. Name, Date | Page #5 In the Beginning….  First week on the job….
  6. 6. Name, Date | Page #6 In the Beginning….  Second week on the job….
  7. 7. Name, Date | Page #7 And Then It Hits You…. • You have: – Infrastructure problems – Vendor problems – Production line problems – Data problems – Personnel problems They all need to be solved; RIGHT NOW.
  8. 8. Name, Date | Page #8 Tackling the Personnel Problem • NPOs: the Internet and web sites are new additions to marketing communications • Responsibility often emerged organically – From marketing department – From communications department – From scientific or medical department – From IT department – From other department • “Hey, let’s put on a show! Is anyone here an actor?”
  9. 9. Name, Date | Page #9 The Only Constant is Change • A Variation on Moore’s Law: • Online change happens at Internet speed – New technologies emerge rapidly – New skill sets to manage new technology emerge almost as rapidly – New opportunities based on skilled application of new technologies emerge next • Change at NPOs often happens at a slightly slower pace
  10. 10. Name, Date | Page #10 The Situation  Does this sound familiar? – Staff supporting the Internet function: • Have widely divergent skill sets • Have little formal training • Have biases toward a particular approach, software or vendor • Solve design and technical problems by “T&E” • Have never managed software development projects or a production line • Are thoughtful, helpful, and committed to the mission
  11. 11. Name, Date | Page #11 What To Do? • Assess • Assert • Act • Produce • Evolve
  12. 12. Name, Date | Page #12 Assess 1. What does your department need to accomplish for the organization? 2. What tactics and tasks are needed to accomplish departmental objectives? 3. What specific skill sets are required to structure and manage the tactics, and complete the tasks?
  13. 13. Name, Date | Page #13 How Assess?  Objectives – Start with strategic plan • Assess how department can support key organizational objectives – Direct – Indirect • Assess how department could support goals more broadly if reconfigured – Review your supervisor’s objectives – Develop “spill down” departmental objectives – Develop testable, measureable goals: – Traffic? Transactions? Conversions? Renewals? Memberships? Revenue? Others KPIs?
  14. 14. Name, Date | Page #14 How Assess?  Tactics and Tasks – Develop list of specific projects designed to meet objectives – Develop list of projects or activities currently provided/supported that do NOT meet objectives (with associated costs) – Develop short projects task lists; what are the top five or six activities someone would need to accomplish in order to meet key objectives?
  15. 15. Name, Date | Page #15 How Assess?  Skill Sets – Revisit list of top projects – What specific skill sets are required to structure and manage the tactics, and complete the tasks? – Technology skills – Project Management skills – Interpersonal/Communication skills – Are these skill sets available elsewhere in the organization? – More cost effective to use a vendor?
  16. 16. Name, Date | Page #16 How Assess?  Position Descriptions – Group tasks and skill sets together logically • e.g., do not put “Proficient w/ AJAX” in the same position as “Develop project management plan and timeline with stakeholders” – Collect job descriptions • From peers • From Internet • From your networks • Focus on responsibilities and skills, not grade and title – Develop draft position descriptions
  17. 17. Name, Date | Page #17 How Assess?  Develop a draft Departmental Structure – Focus on tasks, responsibilities and skills, not titles or current FTE allocation – Focus on developing a structure that models the integration you believe the organization would benefit from – Build teams that can both consult and produce – If more than one team, the teams should complement and not compete
  18. 18. Name, Date | Page #18 Assess  DO NOT: – Add in objectives that do not “roll up” to a key organizational objective – Discuss in detail with your staff – Publically identify gaps in the department that you are far from having the ability to fill – Publically identify tasks that the organization needs done that your current team cannot accomplish – Try to assess whether current staff do or do not possess particular skills
  19. 19. Name, Date | Page #19 Assert  Assert: – Your findings to your immediate supervisor – Ask your immediate supervisor to elevate the issue if needed – Put findings in a written document or PowerPoint – Carefully and thoughtfully seek out additional sponsors throughout the organization (if they can maintain confidentiality) – Share your findings to the HR Department (with your supervisors support)
  20. 20. Name, Date | Page #20 Act  Once you have the support of your supervisor and any other required executive staff: – Talk with HR about best practices/ preferred approach – Schedule a group meeting with your current staff – Schedule 1-on-1 follow up meetings with current staff – Set short, clear, appropriate deadlines – Move quickly but fairly through the process
  21. 21. Name, Date | Page #21 How Act?  Work collaboratively with HR from here forward – Ask for “best practices” or preferred approach for notifying staff – Ask about wages and benefits available to potentially departing staff – Ask for HR presence during group meeting and final notification meetings
  22. 22. Name, Date | Page #22 How Act?  Schedule a group meeting with your staff – Start the meeting with your rationale for the dramatic change. • Focus on facts, not on personalities or history • Matter-of-fact delivery; do not introduce drama – Share new departmental organization chart • Explain how new structure will help department meet objectives – Share new position descriptions • Explain how each position will help department meet objectives – Share process and timeline for making decisions
  23. 23. Name, Date | Page #23 How Act?  Move Quickly: – Schedule follow up meetings (if requested) – Schedule interviews (if requested) – Schedule notification meetings • Suggested timeline: no more than 30 days.  NB: Take time to acknowledge and grieve individually and as a group
  24. 24. Name, Date | Page #24 How Act?  Review Internal Applicants – Follow abbreviated but official recruitment process; application, resume, interview – For long term employees, ask about skills they have acquired via formal or OTJ training – Ask vendors for an honest and confidential assessment of employee skill sets
  25. 25. Name, Date | Page #25 How Act?  Move on quickly – Post open positions – Recruit quickly – Hire right • Suggested timeline: no more than 60 days  Welcome new staff; instill and revisit vision of new department and new role with new department and each new hire regularly
  26. 26. Name, Date | Page #26 Produce  Meet with key stakeholders to explain why the restructure, introduce new staff, new roles, and new responsibilities – Do not badmouth or scapegoat; stick to the facts from your assessment – Revisit history only to explore how newly available personnel and skills sets could have led to different outcome  Execute top tasks noted in assessment  Meet or exceed stated objectives
  27. 27. Name, Date | Page #27 Evolve  Never stop reassessing current structure and positions  Anticipate the future and look for development opportunities for current staff  Regularly scan and assess skill sets in other departments; is there duplication, or could there be a logical collaboration that benefits both departments, and the organization as a whole?
  28. 28. Name, Date | Page #28 The Juicy Stuff: A Case Study  American Diabetes Association – “Online Services” • Department first appeared in 2002 • Staff chosen from many different departments • web site and message forums • Eight FTEs – Three Internet Specialists – One Event Specialist – One Online Book Marketing Specialist – One Online Editor – One Director – One Open Position • Most staff with personal connection to the disease – Open position due to death of employee from disease
  29. 29. Name, Date | Page #29 First Two Weeks  Vendor Summit – 47 direct and indirect vendor services and contracts  CEO left  Editor gave notice  Special Events season was beginning, including beta test of new challenge event
  30. 30. Name, Date | Page #30 State of the Department  Staff were: – Traumatized – Demoralized – Disorganized – Paralyzed  Reporting lines were drawn to ensure raises and advancement, not to structure the work  Positions were referred to not by function, but by name of employee
  31. 31. Name, Date | Page #31 Other challenges….  New VP of Communications  Marketing EVP with no online marketing experience  Interim CEO  Nascent Marketing department  …and of course – Infrastructure problems – Vendor problems – Production line problems – Data problems – Personnel problems
  32. 32. Name, Date | Page #32 Starting the Restructure Process  Began assessment – Stakeholder meetings: “What do you need from my team?” – Skill set needs evaluation – Developed new departmental structure – Developed new position descriptions – …and…
  33. 33. Name, Date | Page #33 Déjà vu All Over Again….
  34. 34. Name, Date | Page #34 Fast Forward  After only… – 18 months – Two CEOs – Departure of Multiple EVPS, including Marketing & Communications EVP, and – Two partial and ultimately doomed departmental restructures  … a sponsor willing to support the complete process
  35. 35. Name, Date | Page #35 How We Rolled  In 90 days: – Team meeting – Individual meetings – Interviews – Notifications and departures – Posting and recruiting – Filled all positions with qualified perm or temp personnel – Meetings with key stakeholders
  36. 36. Name, Date | Page #36 What We Looked Like  Internet Strategy & Operations – Director • eCRM Team – Associate Director » Engineer » Trainer » Web Campaign Producer » Web Campaign Producer • Web Production and Content Team – Associate Director » Web Producer » Web Producer • Applied Web Metrics – Manager » Data Manager • Project Coordination – Senior Project Manager
  37. 37. Name, Date | Page #37 Why We Looked That Way • Teams reflect the work and skills needed to complete a successful project • Project Management (Structure & Scope) • eCRM (Build & Operate) • Web Production & Content (Build & Operate) • Applied Web Metrics (Measure & Improve) • Structure forces integration, collaboration, and cooperation • Design, personnel, and process are starting point for larger organizational discussion
  38. 38. Name, Date | Page #38 Where We Are Today • Teams, structure, and works processes have continued to evolve – Marketing and communications departments combined – New SVP of Marketing Communications • More proactive, less reactive • More consultation, less direct implementation • Distributed content development • Increased integration, collaboration and cooperation • Higher stakeholder satisfaction • Significantly shorter project, campaign, and edit cycle times • More productive , engaged and satisfied staff • New organizational collaboration groups and processes are emerging • Now have more work than we ever imagined….
  39. 39. Name, Date | Page #39 Reflections…. • Team had to shift priorities from development to production – Focus on understanding, measuring, and improving departmental online business cycles – Constant shifting to accommodate competing – though potentially complementary – departmental business cycles into a single overall business cycle • Consultative role struggles to breathe under production load • Constant educational process • Some areas still under-resourced • Change process not moving quickly enough to engage and retain talented staff • When the organization starts to make the kind of changes you have been pushing for, you must continue to support them, no matter what that brings
  40. 40. Name, Date | Page #40 Lessons Learned 1. Don’t give up 2. Do not openly identify problems that you do not have the means to address 3. Move quickly when you get your chance 4. Be humane and fair 5. Wait to hire the best people you can afford 6. The first 90 days are the hardest, but just barely 7. Communicate and model
  41. 41. Name, Date | Page #41 Contact Information David Nickelson, PsyD, JD Until 10/29/2010: Director, Internet Strategy & Operations American Diabetes Association ( ) 703-299-5522 Starting 11/15/2010: Director of Digital Engagement Siteworx, Inc. ( 703-964-1700 Twitter: DrDNickelson LinkedIn: David Nickelson