The new mindset leaders need in the digital-fast era

Illustration of a person thinking about digital building blocks
August 3, 2021


The digital-first era that we are living in has changed two major elements of the customer experience: proximity and speed. The distance between customer and brand has been reduced to a matter of pixels and immediacy is the only time frame customers are willing to accept. This has transformed how companies connect with their customers and reframes how business leaders determine strategies to deliver new customer experiences.

Digital transformation is the umbrella term leaders encounter, but what exactly does it mean? It’s really an exercise in aligning your people, playbook and platform to create the best customer experiences at the pace they expect.  

While digital transformation is the concept of the day, for it to stick, it must be accompanied by cultural transformation. This requires leaders to start with their people, evolve the way they view their work, and give them permission to develop new, sometimes untested, strategies to engage customers. Without this shift in mindset, digital playbooks and platforms cannot be activated to their full potential. 

The builder ethos: a new go-to-market mindset

This new mindset aligns with experimental, agile and adaptive approaches to production. We at Contentful call it the builder ethos

The builder ethos is a philosophy that recognizes that outstanding digital experiences start with those who build them. It includes the mindset of the people building customer experiences as well as the organizational culture they operate within. This is the cultural transformation necessary to power digital transformation.

The key to this ethos is expanding our view of who we consider builders. Previously, when we referred to digital builders, we only meant developers. Certainly developers are a core part of the digital builder ecosystem. However, in order to win the digital-first era, we must also include marketers, creatives and business users who all come together to create the customer experience. Building a great digital experience is similar to constructing a physical building. Architects, interior designers, landscapers and electricians, among others, all come together to contribute their unique craft to a collective project. 

An important difference between physical builders and digital builders is speed. Digital teams need to develop experiences and products now. Then, they need to iterate on those products with the feedback they receive from customers and quickly relaunch to align with evolving expectations. 

By expanding your view of builders and giving them permission to build fearlessly, you create an environment that encourages a growth mindset and allows everyone to spend their time doing what they do best. That may be writing code, designing graphics or manipulating data. This is how companies keep pace with the new speed of business

4 ways digital leaders can adopt the builder ethos

1. Start with the customer and work backwards

Going back to the physical building analogy, those involved have different functions but are singularly motivated to create a structure that is right for the way the people in that building live and work. To build meaningful digital experiences, companies need to start with what their customers want, not what the company has to offer. A builders’ time is valuable and great teams make sure that the time they invest will be useful and worthwhile.  

2. Encourage teams to be generative

The pace of change in this era means that a single idea, even if it is successful today, might not work tomorrow. To stay ahead of the curve, companies must increase variance, try different things and plan on delivering more versions in a shorter period of time. This requires a culture of ideation. Leaders should learn how to identify and cultivate builders within their organization who produce new ideas and have the ambition to bring them to life. 

Download checklist: Identify, attract and retain digital builders

3. Be hypothesis driven

To be productively generative, digital teams need to have a hypothesis for each idea they build and deploy. Digital leaders must encourage their teams to articulate why each idea is a good one and then determine the best way to quickly test that hypothesis. The goal is not to have a few big ideas, but to launch as many ideas as possible and make them great through iteration or cut losses quickly. 

Watch the webinar: People and Process for Leading Digital Teams

4. Increase your risk tolerance

Finally, hypothesis-driven, generative digital leaders need to be risk tolerant. Not everything is going to work out. This sounds like failure. However, the key to the builder ethos is to fail small and fast and understand that failure provides a critical data stream for future success. A risk-averse approach limits experimentation and, in turn, limits customer-generated information digital teams can use to refine and improve. 

This brings us back to starting with the customer. The best experiences are dialogues with customers. These conversations allow digital teams to launch digital products at scale, interpret customers’ responses, iterate based on those responses and relaunch. Each interaction brings teams closer to providing customers with exactly what they want. 

Customers have already welcomed the speed and proximity of the digital world with open arms. By adopting the builder ethos, digital leaders can empower their people to create the digital experiences customers desire at the speed they expect. 

Download white paper: How to deliver digital experiences at the speed of opportunity

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