Digital Transformation: The Space In Between

“You can only understand the system of a rainstorm by contemplating the whole, not any individual part of the pattern.”

– Peter Senge, “The Fifth Discipline”


As we continue to help health systems embrace the new paradigm and move their organizations toward digital mastery, a recurring dynamic has presented itself. For those leading the shift to the new paradigm, there is a focus on the “parts” that are involved, when in reality, the more important driver of success is how those parts interact with each other. This dynamic may not be exclusive to digital transformation, but it definitely is slowing the acceleration of change, and tends to show up in at least two specific ways.

The Open Space on the Org Chart

First, we see the focus on parts when organizations look to restructure their departments to better function in the new world. This effort usually takes place on three levels:

  1. What is the appropriate department structure? 
  2. What are the right positions within that structure, given an organization’s size and other variables?
  3. Who are the right people to fill those positions, and do we have them all on staff today? 

The move to restructure the department to better meet the changing forces in our industry and the disciplines of marketing and communications is a natural and correct step to take on the journey to transformation. The problem stems from organizations who stop thinking about departmental effectiveness once they have the structure, roles, and people figured out. That is, once they have the parts mapped out. But just having these pieces in place is only half the battle – figuring out how to ensure those pieces work together effectively is just as important as getting the structure right. 

Too many organizations focus only on restructuring because it is easier to deal with – it’s a left brain driven diagram with best practices and other organizations to follow. Figuring out how to make people work effectively together is hard – it’s centered squarely in the soft sciences of interpersonal relationships, team building, and department integration. For example, perhaps the number one obstacle to health systems achieving their pursuit of the new paradigm is the lack of integration between the digital team and the rest of the department. While having a digital team on the org chart and having the right people on that team seems to be the answer to digital success, how that team interacts with the rest of the department is the real secret sauce to digital success.

Digital Pieces and Parts

The reason for that is found in the second way marketing leaders focus on the parts rather than interconnectedness, and that is with the components of digital itself – the strategies, channels, and resources that make up the digital world. Examples of these might include your website, SEO, pay-per-click advertising, Facebook, mobile apps, video, email – the list goes on and on. These days, it’s hard to find a health system that isn’t leveraging most, if not all of these digital components. In most cases, while the parts are in place, there is a lack of integration of those digital components, both within digital efforts, and more importantly, across all marketing efforts. 

To maximize the impact of digital marketing, health systems must learn to view all of their other disciplines through that lens. To maximize advertising strategies, you must view advertising through a digital lens. To maximize public relations strategies, you must view PR through a digital lens. To maximize brand strategies, you must view branding through a digital lens. For more on this dynamic, see our post on the evolving confluence of disciplines in the industry. It’s no longer enough to understand how to leverage the parts of digital on their own – SEO, social media, email, etc. – you have to understand how to leverage them as part of an overall marketing communications discipline, connected through all the other strategies and disciplines you undertake.

That brings us back to the first instance noted above – viewing your organizational structure as a collection of parts, rather than an ecosystem where the connections are as important as the pieces. This is why having a digital department isolated from the rest of your department will stymie your success. There must be constant interaction and a blending of talent, disciplines, planning, strategies and efforts to ensure your team is running full steam. 

So as you review your digital transformation efforts, resist the effort to drill down too deeply into any one area or person looking for problems or solutions. Instead, take a step back and view your efforts more holistically, looking at the connections in between the parts. As Peter Senge says in his masterworks “The Fifth Discipline,” each part has influence on the rest, an influence that is usually hidden from view. What are those connections? What are the influences on one another? Where can you make stronger connections – between and among people and/or between and among disciplines and efforts – in order to drive more success?

  • Chris Bevolo

    Chris Bevolo

    Chris’ primary role is to provide leadership and guidance in the areas of strategy, brand, marketing, digital, and change management to hospitals and health systems across the country. Chris is an award-winning author of several books including “Joe Public Doesn’t Care About Your Hospital,” and frequent keynote speaker and featured presenter on the topics of healthcare marketing and branding. His latest book, “Joe Public III: The End of Hospital Marketing” was released in January 2018.

    More about Chris »
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