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Nicholas Hall

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Nicholas Hall, founder & CEO of #DTTT, reflects on the concept of 'shifting to flat’ and on the changes DMOs need to make in their work approach. 

Thanks for reading this post, I hope the title has at least drawn some curiosity as to what exactly the meaning of 'shifting to flat' might signify in the context of tourism. It is a term that I introduced over the past year as we increasingly discuss the topic of Destination Transformation with our amazing community of DMOs and often we find ourselves discussing the qualities that great leaders posses.

In looking at the needs and challenges faced by DMOs seeking to ensure relevancy for the coming years, they are often met with the demands of the fully connected and fragmented digital visitor cycle which has demanded a change in their overall approach. It is clear that digital itself isn’t what presents the challenges, but more to the point, how we communicate digitally.

The real challenge today is in our ability to embrace creativity in everything we do, from our thought process to our delivery.

Believing in something big and championing everybody in the team to be a part of it is usually a good place to start. For any DMO, or business too for that matter, success can be found in being truly adaptable to change, ready to embrace new ideas and developments and yet at the same time keeping a laser focus on having robust and systematic workflows and processes that don't stifle nimbleness with rigidity in our delivery.

So what does this mean in real world terms? Well, first of all it means that the way we work has changed. The move towards primarily web-based workplace solutions has had a profound impact on how we communicate within our teams. It has enabled the smallest of teams to accomplish more and work with greater creative capacity, often leapfrogging larger enterprises with smart cloud based solutions. For bigger teams it allows us to introduce a greater sense of individual responsibility and operate with far greater efficiency on a day to day basis.

For DMOs, the opportunity is to operate somewhere in the middle, to somehow find the sweet spot of empowering teams to increase their individual capacity and creative outlook, whilst also bringing in significant operational efficiencies and greater accountability across the board. This isn’t ‘shifting to flat’, this is taking a completely open view to the digital tools used everyday in the workplace. This is recognising that Outlook should primarily be limited to external communication (yes, it’s good at e-mail!), yet for internal communication there are some amazing tools which are able to transform the work process for good.

How it is possible to produce so much with such a small team?

In our team, we’ve gradually introduced a number of tools over the years which have enabled us to reduce our dependency on agencies and work efficiently with our team and a small net of hand-picked individuals and experts working as an extension to our team. We’re often met with bewilderment by others who cannot understand how it is possible to produce so many leading events, industry sessions, keynotes, workshops, consulting projects, case studies and content with such a small team.

The answer is simple, although it has taken time to fully accomplish the working model that we’ve always sought and it has been very much a learning process. I believe DMOs can also learn from this too. First things first, leave hierarchy at the door. Seriously. There is no place for draconian vertical structures anymore. Many DMOs still operate with a human resource model where ‘level’ equals ‘status’ and experience (we’re talking years of service here, not life experience) and loyalty are what gets you to the top.

First things first, leave hierarchy at the door!

If you want to shift to flat, then think about introducing a more horizontal structure. Of course, in any large organisation there is a need for some sort of hierarchy but it should be based on individual needs and supervision. As a small operation, I’ve had to empower fresh talent quickly by teaching and mentoring, by providing guidance based on my experience and yet as early as possible recognising the importance of empowerment in giving individual responsibilities. In doing this, I have tried to introduce a flat(ter) structure, where every team member has clear responsibilities and they even appreciate having a transparent process holding them accountable.

Essentially, most ambitious people want to see opportunity in their career. If you don’t provide that and fail to offer new opportunities, whether project based or responsibility based, they’ll eventually end up looking elsewhere. Great people aren’t shy of hard work, they want to be empowered to do great things and will stand by them with pride. This is where it’s important for leaders and managers to recognise that sometimes the best ideas might come from the most surprising of places and the most capable individuals might be just waiting for the opportunity show you what they’re capable of. Empowerment is truly rewarding, for everybody, but 'shifting to flat’ requires an open mind as to what is possible and a belief in the people you’ve hired to take your activities to the next level.

In concluding this post, I want to bring it back to DMOs and technology. Making the shift isn’t really possible without also shifting how technology is used to communicate internally. Two tools that we use, which have truly transformed every aspect of our working approach is Evernote Business and Asana. If you don’t use them try them out now and if you’re curious to know more, I’ll share some tips and tricks on these in a future blog post.

Whether you're an employer or an employee, I would love to hear about your own personal experience and thoughts in the comments section below.

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