Digital Transformation Cannot Succeed Without the Right Culture
by Daniel Newman | August 29, 2016
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Business transformations bring a wave of new opportunities. Unfortunately, a stunning 75 percent of change initiatives—from an expansion to a staff reorganization––will fail, according to research by PwC.

And digital transformation is no exception. Personally, I feel that the largest obstacle companies face with digital transformation is cultural transformation. While we tend to focus on strategies and campaigning, we can’t underestimate the power of culture. Business icon Peter Drucker has even been quoted as saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”

And the numbers back it up—a whopping 97 percent said that culture was either an extremely or somewhat significant challenge in digital transformation, according to a survey by the Altimeter Group.

To consider “company culture,” you first must consider the people who need to evolve alongside any technological changes. If they’re not set up to change, it just won’t work.

Change Company Culture First  

I’ve explained before how company culture must drive the digital transformation; without it, it can be impossible to truly change. Think of your employee base as the keys to start the car—without them, you go nowhere.

Change is ultimately positive, particularly when it entails technological advances that will streamline processes and simplify everyone’s life. However, many will see it as disruptive, and it may take time for those people to adapt.

Think about it from the perspective of those who have spent their professional lives working in the same business: Protocols and practices that have been in place for years, even decades, suddenly become null and void. You might find that many would actually choose to maintain work processes that are familiar, even if they are more difficult, rather than make a change that will entail tech advances that ultimately simplify work.

Overcoming these issues has to be your primary goal for a digital transformation to be successful. And once the collective identity begins to shift, advances and transformations will naturally follow. To alter the culture of a company, employees must be the primary focus. If you’re unable to get them on your side, so to speak, they could derail the change, no matter how beneficial it may ultimately be.

Here are three ways to develop a company culture open to change:

  • Make your employees feel valued. Companies must create an atmosphere where they emphasize the importance and value of each person’s input. If your management is quick with positive feedback and offers rewards for hitting milestones or goals, your staff will be more apt to believe that you appreciate their efforts.
  • Engage staff. Employees that feel listened to, valued, and understood are more inclined to want to contribute. Ask for input and collect opinions from people throughout the company. This not only gives you a true picture for the actual state of your company culture, but it can pave the way for less resistance as you begin to transform. Employees are more likely to buy in to a solution they helped develop.
  • Listen to their ideas. Be careful to not just ask for feedback or opinions only to later dismiss them. Too many times employees feel that their input was solicited, but they weren’t actually “heard.” Take the time to truly comprehend the feedback you are receiving. You might find that 80 percent of your staff think it’s time for a change, giving you a green light. But if they indicate they’d be more comfortable with a gradual switch, consider that as a viable possibility.

Know What to Change

Once you’re prepared to change the culture, you have to have a clear picture of what that looks like. A mindset that will welcome digital transformation is one that can:

  • Employ a “freedom to fail” mentality. There are two general types of companies: those that avoid failure at all costs, and those who are willing to learn by trial and error. Mishaps are a natural part of any growing process, and that goes for companies too. Firms that waste energy focusing solely on evading mistakes may not have enough left to implement changes. A whole world of possibilities opens up when you give yourself and your employees room to breathe—and sometimes
  • Let go of tradition. It’s important to honor and respect the past, but not if it’s preventing you from moving forward. Times, businesses, and people all evolve over time, and “the way we’ve always done it” becomes “the way that doesn’t cut it.” When your culture embraces progress and new ideas, it’s one that’s ready to make the switch to digital.
  • Continue listening to and valuing employees. Companies can’t exist without their workers, and you must keep their interests at heart. When you give them chances to be heard and show them you care, they’re going to be much more interested in putting forth the effort to help you change.
  • Make fast choices. Choosing not to make a decision is still a decision. Your culture needs to be ready to tackle problems and seize opportunities without wasting time. Positivity and progress. Quick decisions. You don’t need more time, you need to decide!

It’s imperative to build a solid foundation before you begin your company’s digital transformation. Once you have your team on board, evolution and adaptability are just around the corner.

Photo Credit: ovssys via Compfight cc

About the Author

Daniel Newman is the Chief Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of The Futurum Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. Read Full Bio