How Digital Transformation in 2021 Opened the Door to New Opportunities in 2022
There are a lot of words that we could use to describe 2021, but this is a family show. So we’re going to use two: transitions and intersections. In this first post of 2022, we reflect on where we’re going, based on where we’ve been. (It’s actually pretty cool, and we hope it’s a source of new ideas for you.)
When the pandemic shocked the world in 2020, there was no easing into new ways of doing things. How and where we all did our day-to-day work changed almost immediately and almost completely. Organizations shifted away from priorities like interesting technology engagements and outstanding content production. Timelines and budgets tightened and the goal became digital transformation.
In 2020, we moved the world online. But by 2021, we were fairly settled in our new home offices, constant Zoom schedules, and regular earbud- and sweatpants-wearing. QR codes had equipped our favorite neighborhood restaurants to stay afloat. Our gyms had brought their communities and WODs online. Even our doctors had figured out how to make 21st-century house calls. The digital transformation was well underway.
Dragon Army made some big transformation decisions too, like going 100% remote (we are a digital-specialized agency, after all). We leveraged deep experience in content, user experience, game theory, and emerging technologies to produce new forms of storytelling, content sharing, community building, and productivity. As a result, we began work with some incredibly interesting new clients. And as a result of that, we not only retained our team members, but we also made some new hires in corners of the US where we wouldn’t have been able to recruit if we were still a physical office.
As the year progressed, almost everyone began to see the ramifications of this abrupt change and subsequent settling in. Conversations about how to build and nurture a healthy culture in a remote company started to happen more and more. Articles about ways to keep people from burnout when work and home are the same place proliferated. We all were brought face-to-face with very real social issues and moved to ask ourselves how we would show up. At the same time, we were continuing to make sure we were supporting our clients in the most exceptional ways, as we saw them more frequently (in some cases) online but almost never across a conference room table.
Our teams of specialists did what they do so well. We created intersections of cross-functional ideas and rigor to use this strange transitional time in 2021 to create new, better ways of operating. In this post, we outline and showcase what those efforts look like. We hope it offers you some ideas about ways to continue your transformation as well.
Intersection One: Creativity and Precision
The focus: Outcomes
Particularly when teams and clients are working together from disparate environments on complex creative outputs, structure and rigor are critical to successful outcomes. Think about it like building a fence around a yard where a really active puppy will play. If you build the framework first, you have more freedom to exercise your creativity purposefully, with direction, and with the consistent knowledge of what the outputs are meant to do.
When COVID forced digital transformation, urgent priorities often took precedence over. . .well, everything. To ensure we were working with speed and agility but not rushing, we created a set of fences to guide and hone our creative processes:
- Begin by establishing successful outcomes and make sure all the stakeholders share them.
- Build a project strategy based on knowledge of the company, its competition, its context, and the culture in which it is operating.
- Identify and institute QA checkpoints within the production timeline to ensure work only moves forward when it’s clean and ready.
- Bring cross-functional team members who aren’t intimately familiar with the project to test and vet the work with fresh eyes and minds.
- Hire a dedicated QA expert.
There’s measurable value in nailing down organizational KPIs and critical ROI measures before starting to work. By launching strategic delivery excellence standards at the point of project design, we ensure work progresses efficiently, all the stakeholders are comfortable with the progress, and that the outcomes meet or exceed the initial goals.
What will it look like in 2022?
Two of our tenets are to build remarkable products and experiences and to strive for operational excellence. As we always have, we live out our tenets through how we show up and do our work. In 2022, we expect that digital transformation will settle even further into doing business in a digital environment (hello, metaverse). And with that in mind, we’ll do even more to create those strategic frameworks and delivery excellence standards to ensure that everything our clients put forth is thoughtful, flawless, and interesting.
Intersection Two: Happiness and Productivity
The focus: People
A remote workforce definitely has its benefits. And for every benefit, there’s a challenge. For example, less time commuting to an office equals more time to work, which we have all learned doesn’t necessarily equal greater productivity. Or while the ability to hop on a Hangout, Zoom call, Slack Huddle offers spectacular efficiency, it also brings a spectacular opportunity for multitasking and is woefully unsatisfying to the social butterflies among us.
As Dragon Army made the decision to move to a fully remote company, we considered our purpose to Inspire Happiness. As we moved through 2021, we remained attuned to how people were settling into this always-together-always-isolated way of working, both from the standpoint of how well they were able to perform their work and how fulfilled and content they were.
Operating from a belief that happy team members produce better outcomes, we have implemented a few regular practices that allow us to make sure every individual in the company is happy and productive:
- Weekly sentiment surveys to monitor how people are feeling about their workload, the company, and life in general. (And then following up on them.)
- Regular opportunities to praise peers in the weekly company standup and over Slack.
- Thursday virtual happy hours, monthly meetups, and other simple and safe ways of gathering as friends.
- Every-Monday utilization meetings to ensure people aren’t over-booked or under-utilized, keeping productivity high and each team member feeling like a contributor.
- Annual ‘stay’ interviews to understand exactly what keeps people feeling fulfilled and growing.
As we continue to be bombarded by news of resignations, burnout, and general malaise across the workforce, we have to keep the mental health and general satisfaction of our people top of mind. It’s not just a job for ‘the bosses.’ This is about all people finding satisfaction in their work and turning that satisfaction into a drive to do more with it for the good of their own career and the outcomes of the agency and its clients.
What will it look like in 2022?
Another one of our tenets is to attract and retain exceptional people. By going remote, we’re able to cast a wider net to attract exceptional people. That’s the easy part. As we look toward 2022, retaining exceptional people is the baseline. We continue to use our capacity for digital innovation to find new ways to check-in and stay connected — as collaborators and as friends — so work and culture continue to thrive as we settle into being a digital agency in every sense of the term.
Intersection Three: Profit and Purpose
The focus: Growth
Purpose might be free but the impact of purpose demands resources. Dragon Army is (and always has been) an awesome intersection of both a growth-minded agency and a purpose-driven agency. What that means is that we allocate time, talent, and resources to supporting our for-profit partners and our community. But the latter can’t happen without the former. It takes financial wherewithal to have the freedom to allocate resources and team members to do good with our business.
As needs rose exponentially in 2020 and 2021, the call to contribute got louder. Concurrently, or perhaps coincidentally, the number of brands making loud statements about their purpose, belief systems, and commitments rose too. So did the number of filings for B Corporations. (We are among them.) Companies paid more attention to social issues of all kinds. As the year progressed, it wasn’t hard to see which ones had put the work before the words. Walking the walk before talking the talk isn’t difficult; it just takes some discipline:
- Spend the time on your Purpose, Vision, and Tenets. They will guide the distinct ways in which your business should prioritize generating a profit and a positive impact.
- As you integrate purpose into your operations and financials, continually check yourself to make sure you’re not virtue posturing to win brand affinity and market share. If you can’t measure or provide a case study about specific ways you’re using your business for good, quiet down the communications and do the thing you’re talking about. Then come back to share your inspiring story. The market probably won’t care if you take your time to show up well, but they will care if you’re not honest.
A brand might have the best of intentions but until those intentions are being lived out and are shaping the cultural and operational fiber of the organization, they’re not ready for the billboard just yet. At Dragon Army, we stay focused by making sure what we do and say are honest to our Purpose and Values, and that the work satisfies the needs of our stakeholders — our team members, customers, partners, community.
What will it look like in 2022?
Take steps, even small ones, to make a positive impact through your company. That might be catalyzing your team members to volunteer together. It might be a company-wide effort to compost and recycle from your home offices. It might be special client rates for nonprofits. Whatever it is you care about, if it aligns with your Purpose and Values, and would make your company better, start integrating it.
Intersection Four: Design and Mechanics
The focus: Innovation
Before 2021, most of the mainstream population was playing games and a few had employed interesting technologies like Augmented Reality (AR), Nonfungible Tokens (NFTs), and QR codes. Whether because of restaurants using QR codes for ‘touchless’ menus or every brand imaginable creating their own NFTs, digital transformation was like jet fuel for engagement technologies. And sources like Venture Beat and Business Wire predict the gaming industry will continue to grow at a rate of 12-15% through 2025.
Dragon Army was born for this. Literally. Our agency was launched as a game studio. A game development mentality runs through all our strategies. In 2021, as people began to seek more and more engagement in digital formats and environments, we had the opportunity to tap into those roots even more than ever to create some really cool user-driven experiences and products. As we did, we learned a few things:
- Technology should be one of the first places you turn to when you’re seeking a creative solution to a problem created by restrictions on people coming together in a physical space. (Want to see what that looks like IRL? Check out this incredible ‘living mural’ that we created for Atlanta Celebrates Photography.)
- Rather than seeking to achieve your digital goals by asking what tools you need to employ, ask first what actions you need your customers to take to achieve the goals, then build the UX, UI, and content to satisfy those human needs.
- Keep the barriers to entry low and don’t build tech for the sake of building tech.
If 2020 was all about getting physical world businesses online quickly, 2021 was about making those digital platforms useful, interesting, engaging, and distinct.
What will it look like in 2022?
As we move into 2022, we’re already having discussions with partners about how to host important conversations in the metaverse, where people from across all kinds of geographies and demographics can come together safely and easily. We are integrating our proprietary Applied Game Theory (AGT™) strategy into everything from customer journey mapping to website design. And we are creating new, interactive portals into depths of content that will inform and engage people in new and amazing ways.
It’s truly a brave, new world. (In a good way, of course.) How did 2021 position you forward? Do you have your purpose in mind, your people in place, and your frameworks and tools at the ready? Perhaps only time will tell. Regardless, we hope you’re embarking on 2022 with great optimism and a sense of readiness. And as always, we’re here to support you!