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Crafting a New Approach to the Internet, Part 1

  |  August 31, 2001   |  Comments

When it came to the Internet, companies tried to fit their big feet into Cinderella's slipper. They should now reconsider both their own organizational structures and their approach the Internet. That is, it's time to take a serious look at organizational development.

For the first four or five years of the Web's explosion onto the business scene, most brick-and-mortar companies deferred to the marketing department as the "keeper of the Web site." Soon thereafter, the IT departments got into the act as the need for more complex e-business software became evident and hardware and security issues emerged.

For a while, there seemed to be tugs of war at many companies regarding the ownership and control of the Web site. The marketing department argued that the Web was still fundamentally a communication device. The IT department said the technology aspect parked it squarely in its domain.

Many companies and organizations have created senior-level e-business positions that bring together the marketing and technology sides of the house. Unfortunately, these directors of e-business are often kings without kingdoms, people with lofty titles but no staff. They still have to turn to the marketing and IT departments to get anything completed.

Companies should now consider their own organizational structure and how they approach the Internet. In other words, it's time to take a serious look at organizational development. The words "re-engineering" and "restructuring" might send a cold chill down a person's neck (visions of pink slips come to mind). But most companies have not fully realized the potential of the Internet because they've been trying to fit their big feet into Cinderella's slipper.

In other words, the promise of the Internet can be realized only if the company is willing to consider how the Web site is really an extension of the company rather than a third limb. Although there was much talk a couple of years ago about companies reorganizing around the Internet, very few of them ever did.

All the tenets of organizational development apply when you're seriously considering an Internet rollout for your company:

  • Training

  • Change management

  • Leadership development
Content management systems, for example, require that contributors throughout the organization post information to the corporate Web site. The argument goes that the true "experts" are within the organization, not in the marketing department. In other words, human resources experts know better the kind of information their users will seek on the "Careers" section of the site. Likewise, the experts about a particular product or service should be posting content rather than having to go through the gatekeeper (in many instances, the bottleneck) in marketing or IT.

Sophisticated content management systems are complex to install and require a lot of thought prior to implementation. But the key to success is how much the content contributors actually use it. In other words, the technology isn't the solution, the people are.

So how do you conduct an organizational development process in your company? There are reams of academic papers and high-minded theses on this topic all over the Internet. But below are some basics of what you need to consider if you are to launch a successful initiative.

Identify What You Want to Change

This may sound easy, but it takes some thought. Let's use the content management program as an example. You want the site to grow, and you want your marketing Webmaster to no longer be a bottleneck for updating the site. What you want to change is where the responsibility for updating the site resides.

But, ultimately, the underlying requirement is that staff and employees see the Web site as belonging to them, not just one department. They need to take ownership of the site and accept responsibility for having a strong corporate site. That requires a change in mindset and attitude toward the Web and its role in the company.

Identify Success Factors

You know what you want to change. Now you have to figure how you'll measure success.

If you have 50 people in the organization who have permission to change and update the site, do you want them to change it daily? Do you want them to log on once a week and update? How many of them do you expect will be regular contributors versus more casual, less-frequent contributors?

Take the Pulse of the Organization

Before you bring out the cheerleaders to sing the praises of this new initiative, get a clear and honest sense of the atmosphere in the organization. Is there a morale problem? Do people feel cynical about the "next big thing"? Do they feel overworked? Identify all the issues and barriers that may impede the success of implementation and develop strategies for addressing them head on.

Next time, we'll look at the actual rollout of your new initiative and how you can bring staff along with the changes.


Greg Sherwin and Emily Avila

Emily Avila and

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