With a 'to do' list as long as my desk there is the danger that in a bad week I can barely look up from my computer, let alone leave my desk. Obviously this is not a good situation to be in and means I am neither connected with the business nor living a particularly healthy lifestyle.

Being responsible for digital at a company with 24,000 employees means I'll never be able to fully grasp the diversity of every role and department but, having visited over 20 Kier offices and sites, I've definitely been giving it a go in order to understand how the central digital team can best support them.

To continue this trend, the marketing team took some time away from our desks this week to travel to Barnsley to visit our housing maintenance teams. Kier have a five year contract with Barnsley Council to assist all of their council house residents, and maintain their properties, and we were to join them for a ride along. Whilst half the team were off filming two of us then spent the day on a variety of call outs with Gary (plumber) in the morning and Melvyn (electrician) in the afternoon.

Us suited and booted and ready for action
Interestingly, our first chaperone, Gary, was from a coal mining background and told us that after the closing of the pits he found it hard to adjust to the job of a plumber. The difficulty for him was not the practical side of the jobs (he said he was offered adequate training to carry out all of the repair work) but the social aspect. Some council tenants were just happy to have someone to talk to after a week alone in their house but Gary's experience had just been talking to fellow male miners in the pits. He felt where this job had allowed him to progress the most was in his ability to converse with the tenants whom he had been sent to help.

This got me thinking about  the importance of these same skills in a digital context (or any office environment) and how all digital marketing roles could benefit from a culture that emphasises a combination of skills and duties. It also demonstrated that it may not be the skill which you think you need or have that make you successful in a job.

It's clear that the technology landscape has completely changed our ideas of certain company roles meaning many professionals have also had to venture outside their comfort zones as roles shift along with trends. A great example of this is the traditional customer service department. In the past, customer service representatives communicated with customers over the phone, and later on through online reviews. But nowadays, the roles of social media specialists and customer service professionals are pretty blurred.

This trend has forced social media experts to develop some customer relations skills and vice versa. It also creates a need for these two departments to develop some common goals, best practices, and a consistent voice. The combined effect of the daily work carried out by Kier employees in the field (housing maintenance, highways operatives and construction workers) can have a massive effect on how the brand is perceived across the country. We are concentrating a lot of time and effort on effectively governing the brand but one bad customer experience could undo this work in a second.

The machines are taking over
Also, as more job roles become increasingly automated specialised technical skills may not be the way to compete in an increasingly difficult economy - to really get ahead, what a worker needs are the aforementioned social skills. In the future, the jobs that are least likely to be automated are those that demand lots of interaction with co-workers or clients, not just the performance of rote analytical tasks. These jobs also call for the ability to perform innately human exercises—like pondering another person’s point of view. These nuances of human interaction are the one area in which machines are really struggling to compete with us and are where we can really thrive and differentiate.

The lesson for me was also that  having good technical skills is just a tiny part of success in the workplace. The team in Barnsley do an amazing job of completing their work and keeping the residents happy and their acquired social skills are essential for anyone in order to both enhance the reputation of a company and succeed in a career.
Keeping customers happy since 2015
I have always prided myself on fighting the corner of the external customer in any organisation in which I've worked. After all, without our customers we don't have a business! This has led to me previously getting frustrated when the focus of all of our efforts is placed on internally targeted work such as 'unnecessary' analytics reports for executives or in spending our time and money on staff events and giveaways.

However, a big learning curve for me has been to come to realise that our internal clients are really just as important as our external customers - especially when we have the responsibility of delivering digital solutions for over 24,000 staff! It's taken me a while to come around to this way of thinking, and part of that has been my own pride of wanting our work to hit the largest possible audience, but internal CMS etc. users really do need to be kept as happy as our paying customers.

In the past I have been involved in some great user experience testing initiatives to track everything from the response to a new design to the quality of the navigation but with a solely front-end focus. This has been great in allowing us to tailor a website to ensure the maximum number of leads and goals are achieved but what about user testing the back-end?

As we are responsible for selecting and managing our systems (anything from a CMS to an email client, asset library or survey tool) it's important we also involve the internal users of these to develop and utilise them fully.

What is often overlooked is that the in-house marketing team in any organisation is providing a service. Our clients are the wider business who are all reliant on what we provide to them to do their jobs properly. They may have what we deem to be a smaller audience than us, or one which is not as high profile, but it is our responsibility to streamline the tools we have in order for them to deliver on their individual objectives.

This is why I have introduced some internal user testing of our back-end tools at our regular user group meetings. This will really help my central team get to grips with the pain points and objectives of the wider business and tailor our solutions accordingly.

It's also true that many people are still very nervous of digital. They know it's required and that the digital marketing team are clearly professionals, who know their stuff, but that's as far is it goes. By being clam, collected, trustworthy and most importantly available you can be seen as a team not just of builders of digital assets but a resource on who they can rely on to educate them and help them grow. Being approachable is everything alongside making people feel that no question is a stupid question!

None shall enter!
Some internal clients may not want to be particularly hands on but for those who are it's essential they are provided an environment in which to flourish. If the central team is just seem as an agency who locks down all of the systems and builds everything themselves they will just end up with more work than they can deal with and a load of unfulfilled colleagues on the outside of an impenetrable fortress. 'Self service' is important - if only for your own sanity!

We have seen with the recent launch of our 'Marketing Hub' that the wider business is essential in informing us of what they need to deliver - whether it be in winning work through bid documents or supporting the building of working relationships with councils and joint ventures. We can then present a united front, share best practice and pool our efforts.

This also allows us to be recommended as a service who listens throughout the business and stretch our reach further as more people are sent our way to aid in project delivery and strengthen the brand.

With this in mind I am currently attending our annual two-day 'Leadership Conference' in the Cotswolds where I will be talking about the tools we offer to the business. The plan here is to increase the exposure of what we offer and show our commitment in finding the time to pay the same attention to our internal clients as we do the end-user.
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