How can my organisation become digitally mature?

How can my organisation become digitally mature?

At Hart Square, we have the privilege of working with a range of different organisations right across the non-profit sector. Recently many of them have been placing a strong emphasis on improving their digital capabilities and their all-round use of technology.

Against this backdrop, one question arises regularly: how do organisations become ‘digitally mature’ or a ‘digital first’ organisation?

Understanding what being digitally mature means can be a challenging first question, and it will mean different things for different organisations.

McKinsey Consulting, in their article “What Does Digital Mean” defined it as:

Digital is less a thing and more a way of doing things

So how can your organisation develop its level of digital maturity and reach a place where you’re happy with your way of doing things? There are several elements which an organisation should consider, and we will analyse a couple below.

Critical factors in this are the culture and skills within the organisation.

In a digitally mature organisation, there needs to be a focus on developing people’s skills, allowing experimentation to take place and creating a culture that values the learnings that come from failure. Of course, skillset is an important aspect but equally important is the culture of your organisation. Conditions need to facilitate new ways of working and giving people the tools they need to push the organisation forward.

This is acknowledged in the 2019 Charity Digital Skills report by Zoe Amar, where 56% of charities are asserted to be taking active steps to improve their culture so digital can flourish.

Customer experience and understanding your audiences are other important factors.

This does not necessarily mean you should just have the latest digital ‘fad’ but instead understand how and where your audiences are engaging. To ensure you can continue to respond to your customers’ needs, you need to put the right infrastructure and processes in place to implement a continuous cycle of development which evolves over time.

Each organisation will have their own way of judging if they are ‘digitally mature’ but in a rapidly changing digital ecosphere the goal posts will continue to move.

That is why its more critical than ever to put in place the right processes, people and infrastructure that will allow your organisation to flourish and evolve. If your organisation can do things in the right way, it will be more than capable of reaching and sustaining the digital maturity you desire.

Disrupt or retreat? How to lead your non-profit out of the pandemic

Disruptive leadership has been a hot topic in the past few years, with the term coming to prominence as we searched for new approaches to help us navigate the digital age. The need to explore new methods of management and leadership, as well as the choice of term, reflect primarily on the incredible pace and unpredictability of change we’ve been experiencing since digital became the driving force behind society at large and business in particular.

But what is disruptive leadership? What are the key characteristics of a disruptive leader? And now, in the face of an unprecedented external shock to us all, shouldn’t we resist adding to the disruption we’re experiencing, and instead retreat to tried and tested, stable and secure methods, and traditional leadership techniques?

That would seem the logical thing to do, to hold tight to certainty and rely on our experience to see us out the back of a period which has been beyond anything any of us have previously experienced.

But let’s pause for a moment and consider what we mean by disruptive leadership and what characteristics define it. There are different versions of this around of course, as there always is, but arguably disruptive leaders are agile and…

  • Humble, accept that others may know more than them and welcome critique
  • Adaptable, accept that change is constant and can’t be fully controlled. Not too precious to be prepared to change opinion and course in the light of new information or developments
  • Visionary, able to develop and focus on a long-term vision despite the fluidity of the present and short-term
  • Engaged, willing to listen and learn beyond and outside of traditional structures and hierarchies

It’s said that the root cause of the disruptive leadership model has been the disruption caused by digitisation of processes, products and business models. Can we not argue that the pandemic has had an equally seismic effect of products, processes and business models? Whilst many have struggled we’ve also seen innovation on an unprecedented scale here in the UK non-profit sector:

  • We transitioned our organisations overnight to remote-first working, and have sustained that for months
  • We found, embraced and invented virtual fundraising ideas
  • We channelled funds to those most in need and delivered direct support nationally and internationally
  • We provided food and sustenance to frontline workers and those who are being most impacted by the crisis
  • We supported professional members in defiance of the odds, and saw the professions re-emerge as an anchor of truth in a firestorm on uncertainty
  • We stepped in where society needed us to, we proved that the Third Sector is the lifeblood of this country, when the call went out we answered.

So let’s harness that energy and success, and be emboldened as we start to strategise our way forward over the coming months and years.

As a starting point, let’s consider our approach to decision-making, since agility is one of the bedrocks of disruptive leadership. Larry Page, co-founder of Google and CEO of Alphabet, builds on the old adage that the only bad decision is no decision, and takes it further, emphasising the value of fast decision-making

“There are basically no companies that have good slow decisions. There are only companies that have good fast decisions” Larry Page, CEO of Alphabet

There’s no denying Google & Alphabet’s success, built on OKRs and extended through disruptive leadership. Maybe this is the biggest lesson of all for us to take away? When we were compelled to make fast decisions, based on the little that we knew within a volatile environment, we made good decisions and survived. Many will do more than survive, they’ll learn their lessons and flourish in the new world. Are we brave enough to maintain this philosophy, to continue to make fast, clear decisions? Are you brave enough to join them….?

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How to find a balance between culture and strategy

In my previous post on the subject of culture and strategy, I described how and why they compete for dominance in many organisations, especially charities. Taking this forward, this article looks at why we need to align them.

How to find a balance between culture and strategy

The key to balance is discovering if the existing culture is going to readily enable the strategy or not. Unless the strategy is written from the result of discussions and feedback across the entire workforce, it is likely that it will involve certain actions that are not considered universal priorities. This could therefore be of disinterest to some of the key stakeholders and negatively impact the success of the strategy.

The following considerations serve as a guide to design an inclusive strategy that leaves less room for a strong culture to jeopardise the success of a transformational project:

  • Align strategy with values – if each action of the strategy can lead to an outcome that is directly linked to the mission and vision, the importance of the task will be clearer, which, in turn, will increase motivation and participation within the team.
  • Set realistic targets based on known skills and behaviours – if the team does not have the capacity or skill set for project work, there will be resistance, which could cause delays, or scope and budget changes. It could be worth opting for a hands-off approach or looking to outsource this role.
  • Undertake an honest analysis and criticism of your culture before taking on a new direction to see if the current strategic approach will be possible within the remit of the culture – if the answer is no, it will be easier to adapt the approach of your strategy than to try and fight against an uncooperative culture.
  • Do not assume that a (good) strategy alone can fix holes in a (bad) culture – it may be that complementary workshops and training are needed to address aspects of the culture that the organisation wants to move away from.

Giving strategy a seat at the breakfast table

In summary, Drucker’s theory should not serve as a reason not to embark on a new project or introduce a strategy refresh. It should however serve as a reminder that when creating a strategic roadmap, the power and influence of the organisation’s culture should not be underestimated or overlooked. After all, Drucker also said that “change is the norm; unless an organization sees that its task is to lead change, that organization will not survive”; reminding us that change and transformation are essential to the success of the organisation, and that by letting the fear of a culture vs strategy face-off prevent leading change, it will also prevent all of the new opportunities that come with change.


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Does culture always eat strategy for breakfast, or is there room for both at the table?

Management Consultant and author Peter Drucker coined the expression: ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ to illustrate that the realisation of strategic goals will be hindered if the culture of the team does not support them. This theory has sparked debate across all sectors but is particularly relevant to the charity sector where organisations often have a very strong and united culture heavily influenced by their mission and vision.

Why charitable organisations have especially strong cultures

Individuals tend to be attracted to work in the charity sector due to an affiliation with or belief in a certain cause, and therefore many charities are made up of teams of people with similar opinions and priorities. When a group of likeminded people are working in the same place, a culture is therefore borne out of the unspoken behaviours, mindsets, and social patterns that these individuals share. To illustrate, it is unlikely that a person who hates animals would choose to work in a donkey rescue shelter. Far from it, it can be assumed that the team would be made up of people who love and care for donkeys, and would put their comfort and wellbeing ahead of other responsibilities within their job description, such as reaching strategic targets and goals. Thus, a shared culture of ‘operate first, innovate later’ is born.

Why strong cultures can often be disabling

There is no doubt that a shared culture is an asset to an organisation and leads to effective execution of tasks that the team actively regards as important. However, it often results in mutual disregard or disinterest in tasks regarded as of lesser direct importance to the cause. In the case of our donkey rescue shelter, the team is united in working towards the outcome that donkeys receive the care that they need, but reflective and analytical tasks – perceived as inactive or indirect in meeting the needs of the cause – are often left to one side. Thus, if a strategy were to be introduced, requiring all members of the team to complete actions such as: data audits, user testing, and participation in discovery workshops, this shared culture of prioritising operation (basic function) over innovation (how to more fulfil the function more effectively) could easily become a roadblock. That is to say, it could result in a team of culturally aligned individuals who are misaligned with the wider strategic vision.

Why we need bring culture and strategy together

This by no means suggests that there is no room for strategy in the charity and third sectors. In fact, one could argue that a charitable organisation with a strong cultural alignment has the ideal conditions to host a transformational project, as the shared culture could be used to increase the chance of success when confronting change or challenges.

Why? The combination of a team with invested interests in the triumph of a project, with accountability on an individual level and teamwork to support each other in meeting the criteria for success, leads to faster and better decision making, no competing priorities, less possibility for scope change and less possibility for the project to derail.

Hence, strategy and culture can be compatible concepts, with the former providing a logic and plan to achieve the goals, and the latter providing the will, enthusiasm, and longevity of results.

In my next post on this topic I’ll cover “How to find a balance between culture and strategy ”


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Is a digital strategy a thing of the past?

At Hart Square, we have a lot of conversations around digital strategy and digital transformation with clients across the NFP sector. As organisations continue to rapidly evolve their thinking in this area, one question keeps coming up again and again; is having a digital strategy an organisational necessity or should digital simply be integrated into wider organisational strategies?

For years, charities and NFP organisations have been trying to increase their digital capacity with increasing focus on developing more web-based offerings and harnessing new technology to raise more funds, engage more deeply with their audiences and collect higher quality data. But when asked in the Charity Digital study, conducted by Zoe Amar in 2019, 67% said that they still want to use digital to increase their impact. This would suggest that digital is still not ingrained in the culture and strategies of these organisations.

This is also something that the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been looking at, concluding that,

Transformation should be the focus not technology, technology enables an organisation to change and enhance strategies.

But how does this translate into practice? What would your organisation need to make lasting transformation happen? How do you focus on transformation without technology being your focus?

A critical factor here is that behind any change, there needs to be a focus on how this would integrate with your organisations’ overarching strategy and vision. When you know what you want to achieve and what benefit it will bring to the organisation, you can then start to look at what tools, resources and skills are needed to make it happen.

Equally key will be ensuring that there is enough digital leadership within the organisation. As with delivering on any strategy, everyone will need to buy into this transformation, understanding its impact and their part in making it happen. This will naturally need leadership at all levels of your organisation, something that not everyone feels they have.

To quote the 2019 Charity Digital study, 58% of respondents said their charities have fair to low skills in digital leadership.

With digital now permeating across everyday business as usual activity, it’s more important than ever to ask yourself how digital transformation can support the vision and aims of your organisation. Digital should be a key pillar of any organisational strategy, front of mind when looking at how to achieve your aims, whether that is in supporter engagement, delivering services or growing impact.

Digital and technology will continue to be omnipresent across the sector and leaders will need to adapt to ensure that they are able to leverage the full value of organisation-wide digital transformation.

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Time for a new kind of leadership

If ever there was a time to move forward from command-and-control style management to a world where leaders inspire their people and, in business terms, their teams then surely this is it.

A cultural shift from management to leadership has been coming for some time, but let’s not just assume the reasons and benefits are clear to all. This is about far more than the semantics around different words, this is a reflection on modern ways of working, the desire for collaboration across organisations, where employee participation is fostered, engagement is nurtured and trust underpins employment.

From all directions, when you consider whether it is more productive, more efficient, more effective to put our heads together as equals, or to compete within flse hierarchies, surely there is only one conclusion to draw?

Who wants to work in an organisation where you can only do what you’re told to, in detail? Where is there any form of satisfaction to be had in just executing someone else’s ideas?

On that note, ask also how many new ideas can a stretched executive spin up, while trying to maintain operational delivery within good governance.

How many barriers to open thought do long-standing, senior employees have which more recent recruits are free of when they seek to innovate, when they dare to pursue the art of the possible unfettered by experience and failure.

To be dynamic, to grow, to be digital we need input from all corners of our organisations.

If ever there was a time to appreciate the value and perspective of every employee then it is now, and we need to keep this front of mind as and when we find a way through the disruption of the pandemic.

Let’s not talk of a return to normal, but of progressing to a new current state, informed by this experience, and celebrated by every one of us for we have all contributed to its achievement.


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Delivering a virtual conference in lockdown: APM’s Power of Projects Takeover

When lockdown started in March, Hilary Trahair, Events Manager, Association for Project Management realised very quickly that their summer conference would have to be cancelled.

Whilst a devastating blow, APM knew that they did not want to lose out on all the work that they had put in to the event, so they immediately started looking at virtual options. “We knew we had plenty of good content and the majority of speakers were still really keen to participate in a virtual space, which was very encouraging and gave us the impetus to go forward. The challenge then became how can we transform our successful conference format into a virtual one?” explained Hilary.

They soon realised that they could not just take the existing format and timetable and simply transfer it online.

For a start, there was far too much content for one day, as the event was really three conferences. Instead, they came up the idea of a virtual event that would take place every day from 12noon-2pm over a two week period, abandoning the term conference and renaming the event Power of Projects Takeover.

The extended timeframe meant they didn’t have to try squeeze all the content in one day and gave them the opportunity to create more engagement opportunities. For example, outside of the lunchtime content, they have launched APM’s brand-new community platform, APM Member Hub, which will allow delegates to continue the conversation, ask questions about the content that there was not time for, showcase APM products, such as qualifications and pick on areas of interest for future content, such as blogs. Having an extended timeframe also allows delegate more time to absorb the information being presented to them.

Delivering an excellent virtual delegate experience became the priority and the choice of the technology has been crucial to that process. APM had previously made the decision to use the event app InEvent during the physical conference to allow delegates to create their own agenda on the day, ask questions, take part in interactive polls, set up chats and network.

InEvent then developed their own web based virtual conference functionality and, as Hilary explains, APM chose their product. “InEvent allows delegates to choose the sessions they want to attend and the people they want to chat with. Networking is the one of the key reasons people attend a conference and we wanted to make our event as interactive as possible and more than a series of webinars. InEvent was the most flexible and best value product for us and they have been able to develop new features for us too. You do need to shop round though and do your research as all of these product have different pricing models and you need to very clear about your requirements.”

APM want to make the virtual experience as user friendly and interactive as possible alongside delivering valuable and insightful content.

Using the app, delegates will be able to:

  • View all the sessions in one place
  • Create their own agenda each day, giving them choice and control over the content they want to see
  • Register only once to access sessions for the whole event
  • See who is in the lobby to allow better networking opportunities and invite people to meetings
  • Use multi-devices to engage with the content
  • Download content and take part in polls and ask questions each day

Significantly, the majority of the content will still be live.

They have retained key speakers and delegates will be able to see the speaker talking as well as the content, explains Hilary: “Making the most of the live content is really important to us. We are encouraging speakers to stand up and move around as you would at a conference. Inevitably different people have different styles and levels of experience in delivering online events, so we have needed to coach some people, but everyone is open and enthusiastic to making the most of this event.”

A key difference from the physical conference is that there is no exhibition space to showcase sponsors. After some internal debate, APM has decided not to pursue sponsorship opportunities for this event recognising that it is not as clear cut what the sponsorship value is of a virtual event and sponsors are in a difficult place financially too. Instead they have used the opportunity to focus on more of their own content and use it as an opportunity to engage people in different ways to further their development. Hilary commented: “We have been lucky enough to make this event free which means we will be able to engage with even more people than we would normally, such as non-members and an international audience, an added benefit of a virtual event.”

APM is already thinking about how they can maximise the content of the virtual event afterwards, including offering members the benefit of being able to watch any sessions they may have missed after the event before releasing it into the public domain.

So far nearly 1,000 delegates have registered and APM welcomes anyone is who interested in projects to register for Power of Projects Takeover, which takes places from Monday 1 to Friday 12 June from 12:00pm. It is completely free of charge and open to anyone interested in projects, wherever they are in the world.

The social impact of working from home #stayhomesavelives

Stay home, save lives

In these exceptional times we’re seeing many an infographic and explainer relating to Covid-19, as we all become way too familiar with daily graphs from Public Health England, and the elusive R factor which has claimed a central role in our hankering for a relaxation of current restrictions.

Within this field, if you’re interested in such things, you’ll likely be familiar with many a mathematical model of how the small actions of individuals play their part in the pandemic.

Even then it can be difficult to comprehend the difference you can make as a person, never mind Hart Square as an organisation of 21 people and all the activity which occurs as a consequence of our day to day work. As a modestly sized consultancy, we’re a drop in the ocean, right? Well, maybe not..

The tech

Manchester based Reason Digital has created a Social Impact tool to understand one of the most significant Covid induced behaviour changes – the great swathes of the nation working from home. By feeding in a few basic details the tool can calculate the social, environmental and health impact of your organisation working from home.

This is no facebook style random number generator, however simple this looks on the surface. The mathematics and data behind social impact modeling are robust and often mind bogglingly clever.

So what does it tell us..

At time of writing (Friday April 24th) if we take Monday 16th March as the day we started working from home our 21 staff have been doing so for 28 days. Plugging that into the tool we start to see the impact.

Environmentally it’s nothing but good news – we’ve saved the equivalent of 681Kg of Carbon Dioxide which is the same as planting 31 trees.

We reap the benefits too – £4,580 saved in travel costs and 568 hours of commuting time.

Invent me a tool to find where all that spare time has gone and I’ll be seriously impressed.

Socially it’s more of a mixed bag – as we are in theory more productive at home we should have gained 98 hours of additional productivity and if the opportunities for additional exercise are taken (!), we could have done 245 hours.

But here’s the number to put to what we are all experiencing – the social isolation of not sharing a space with colleagues and clients has caused us to lose 362 hours of social interactions through our work.

The big one..

It’s the final set of numbers which gives the greatest pause for thought.

By working from home we have prevented 3,480 Covid-19 cases and potentially saved 49 lives.

And that’s as it is now – extend that to the not unrealistic date of 1st June and that becomes an eye watering 240,347 prevented cases and 3,365 lives saved..

There are undoubted challenges with this enforced way of working, back to back to back virtual meetings, eroding work/life hygiene, unannounced ‘special guests’ breaking into your working space and of course the absence of those small but important in person interactions that we maybe took for granted.

However, the next time that starts to grate, just plumb the latest numbers into the tool, take a moment, and move on..


We are in this together and together we are literally saving lives


The Social Impact Calculator is available at



The drive for non-profits to really engage with AI

Despite the potentially off-putting hype and noise around Artificial Intelligence and “the rise of the machines” the reality is that AI and machine learning are technologies which have arrived and are on the verge of being mainstream.

Projects to evaluate, implement and deploy these technologies are now both appropriate and affordable, and whilst they must of course be treated with caution, they now represent arguably the biggest opportunity for non-profits who are striving to stay relevant and to radically enhance the services and benefits they offer to their supporters, members and beneficiaries alike.

What does this mean in practice?

The deployment of AI and ML technology can mean many things but the real benefit they bring to non-profits is in the ability they offer to mine and manipulate data at scale. Data is the lifeblood of non-profits; whether that’s to be able to understand more about donors and supporters and thereby to create deeper, more valuable relationships, or whether it’s used to analyse vast quantities of data in ever-decreasing timeframes, to identify and provide back critical information to beneficiaries or service users.

In the latest example of this, delivering a ground-breaking innovation, Muscular Dystrophy UK, Reason Digital, Parkinsons’ UK, the Stroke Association, and the MS Society have joined in an unprecedented partnership to harness the power of AI for good, creating the UK’s first AI health assistant. The Digital Health Assistant (DHA) is set to transform the way medical advice and information is delivered to millions of people in the UK.

The DHA will use machine learning to develop an understanding of the person being supported and continues to adapt to their needs over time based on interactions. This allows DHA to provide emailed content and support specific to an individual’s needs, making it vastly more effective than current alternatives.

This real-world implementation of AI for good, by a coalition of charities, spells out the opportunity for every non-profit to innovate and to harness the latest technologies in support of their cause. The technology is now science-fact and our challenge is to be brave enough to embrace it, to put it to use, and to derive a series of benefits for the whole of society.


This article was first published by Synergy in print format

Interview with Dan Pegler, Head of IM&T, Action for Hearing Loss



Tell us about your current role!

I have worked at Action for Hearing Loss, for four and a half years, as Head of IM&T. We are the largest charity for people with hearing loss in the UK. We have about 80 sites across the four countries, with around 1,000 staff and 2,000 volunteers.

My team of seven provide IT infrastructure support to all 80 sites – the usual services you would expect to enable the organisation to function day-to-day. Two of the team focus on software development of a number of bespoke in-house tools that we use, e.g. an outcomes tool for our registered care services to track progress of the people we support so we can measure our success in helping people to achieve their goals.

And before this?
I’ve worked in both the for-profit and not-for-profit sector, having started my career at a brewery (I was 18 and thought it was the best job ever!). I then worked at a law firm, before I moved into the not-for-profit sector. I’ve worked in the housing sector, education and then more recently the NHS. Action for Hearing Loss is my first charity though and it’s a hugely rewarding role.

What difference do you see between the private and public sectors?
It’s the staff in the NFP sector – they’re the real difference for me. Staff in the charity sector are truly motivated to do the best job they can because they identify with the cause their organisation champions, rather than to just generate profit for profit’s sake. And that’s a big motivation for me, working with like-minded people.

What’s the biggest challenges facing your organisation right now?
Like any charity, the challenge is managing a small team on a budget – particularly hard when you are delivering high quality IT services on a national scale.

As money becomes tight, fundraising for any charity is hard, so we are really focused on getting our message out and making sure people understand the difference that we make to people’s lives.

How will you approach this change?
IT is focusing on being a business enabler, embedding a cultural change so staff understand the importance of data. The focus is sharing data analytics back to all parts of the organisation, so they can understand how they are doing, and can measure and continuously improve services for the people we support. One of my passions is to help people understand how data can help them, what an asset it is.

In parallel, we are making our systems and services secure, accessible and intuitive for staff, so they can focus on the job in hand.

Finally, good procurement decisions are key. In my early days at Action for Hearing Loss, I saw that some of our communication costs were high, so quickly renegotiated and sourced new suppliers, saving £60k a year and improving the service for staff or our service users.

What’s the thing you’re most proud of in your current role?
Being able to deliver a big infrastructure upgrade project that transformed the way the organisation works. Previously, we had a solid, reliable system but it only really worked if you were in the office. Now we have systems that enable staff to work remotely and securely and get access to superb IT services at any time, from any location. In the process we made saving of 25% on our annual operational costs, which could be reinvested in support for service users. I’m really proud of that.

What’s the secret to your success?
The thing to do is get your recruitment right and make sure the people in your teams know the contribution they are making. You also have to trust them to be able to deliver. And it’s always great to hire people who know more than you do!

You’re coming to – what are you hoping to learn?
I went last year for the relaunch – where it stands out from other events is that it looks at delivering strategies from the organisation’s point of view, and sharing what went well, what went less well and how the sector can be better. There’s a real honesty from the presenters.

It also showcases the tools and services out there, but both from suppliers but also their customers – speakers from the sector who are running organisations like mine.

Which speaker are you most looking forward to hearing this year?
Alastair Campbell – he’s been right in at the heart of government and to hear his views right now will be a fantastic end to the day. It’s worth saying that Midge Ure was fantastic last year as well!

Who’s your fantasy speaker for our future events?
Bill Gates would be amazing! Also, speakers talking about the ethical of use of data would be good.

Thank you for sparing the time to talk to us today!

If you are a leader or man