Future of Work — 13 November 2019

5 steps to transform your corporate culture to support digital transformation

You may be forgiven for thinking your organization can be transformed solely by implementing new technologies and processes. After all, when we hear the word transformation, the concept of digital transformation immediately springs to mind.

However, it’s important to appreciate the importance of corporate culture when any changes are made. Patterns of thought and behaviour and the shared values and traits of an organisation influence its ability to innovate and adopt new technologies. They are what form and transform culture; they are a driving force behind a more global corporate transformation.

So, with that being said, what are the main drivers of cultural transformation? In this article, we’ll take a look at the five best ways to change your corporate culture effectively.

1. Focus on the customer

Focusing too much on technology and internal processes can easily cause your organisation to overlook the customer. It’s essential to keep in mind that the transformation process is all about aligning your primary goals with the expectations of your customers.

What do they want? What drives them? What do they want from the product or solution offered by your organization? How do they use it? How can you improve their day-to-day experience and interactions with your employees? These are the questions you need to ask yourself during your discussions about transformation. The point of all this is to help your teams develop a deeper appreciation for and empathy towards your customers and their expectations.

2. Train your managers

There is a common misconception that values influence managers, who then take ownership and disseminate such values of their own accord. However, such thinking is flawed. Management must first be trained before they can embody and disseminate these values. It is therefore important to train managers, because they are the ones who transmit culture and values to their team: their role is to export trust. There is no way around this, even if a certain amount of soft skills come naturally to the management team.

As a result, certain companies have set up training programs for their managers, including Amazon and Bonobos. The former offers its future managers a month of intensive training, rotating through various job roles in order to understand the internal culture and the processes in place. The latter runs a program called ‘Managing for Success’, which equips managers with the essential skills for managing their teams.

It’s also critical to ensure your managers move from the traditional model of delegation to a more leadership-focused style centred on empowerment, providing support, and continuous professional development to their teams. This in turn will foster a culture in which employees feel safer and more comfortable to test new ideas, and also to make mistakes and learn from them.

3. Extend and defend the right to make mistakes

The value of failure and making mistakes has been recognised by several organisations, including Dropbox, PayPal, FourSquare, and Capital One. They organise regular hackathons, which allow them to capitalise on the creativity and ingenuity of multidisciplinary teams in order to refocus on innovation and design solutions that respond to future business challenges.

During these hackathons, the teams devote themselves exclusively to developing new projects (internal or external) by pursuing an innovative goal: for example, they may need to improve an unsatisfactory process, build a committee for the CSR policy, or analyse a customer experience issue and look to improve it. The idea is to take time to solve problems and launch new projects in a creative way. Hack Weeks account for around 30% of the innovations produced at Dropbox.

Successes and failures are both taken into consideration. In fact, in some organisations, failures are considered a standard byproduct of project development. Fail awards can thus also be organised: a team that has encountered a failure presents it, explaining why the project failed, and they then receive a reward. This means failure is fully integrated into the corporate culture.

4. Cultivate transparency and explain change to your employees

It is important to always explain a change and demonstrate why it is necessary.

Your employees may sometimes resist change. Such reluctance may be due to a poor dissemination of messages about the change or poor management. A lack of explanation about the exact reasons for the change may also be at the heart of this reticence.

In such cases, conducting internal mini-surveys on the company’s strategy may prove insightful. Contributions to these surveys may thus lead to a change in approach. A bottom-up approach such as this—from those on the ground up to management—helps all employees to feel involved in the organisation’s strategy and encourages their participation in meeting the organisation’s objectives. Including everybody will give your teams the desire and motivation to initiate and develop change together, rather than simply applying it without any real participation or communication.

5. Use tools that foster change

Part of organisational culture is related to the “way of working,” that is, to the processes. This element can easily be changed. Some changes affect the secondary processes first and are later deployed to primary processes. You can adjust processes without changing the fundamental culture of the organization.

You can first start by putting tools and processes in place that make your employees’ lives easier and give them more autonomy. By doing so, they will feel freer to try new things, to fail, and to start again, thus leading to a virtuous cycle of innovation which is necessary for any transformation to take place.

Tools such as Slack, Zoom, or Dropbox Paper are easy to adopt internally. They are very easy tools to use, designed with users in mind. They encourage more flexibility and independence in employees’ daily work. The iterative approach they adhere to allow users to exchange ideas without the need for final approval. Such an approach falls in line with the company’s approach to management.

Culture is at the heart of every good transformation

Digital transformation at an organisational level can only be implemented when the appropriate corporate culture exists. In order to be faster, more agile, and more innovative, you will need to create an open space in which your employees’ and customers’ experience is given priority, where your employees are entitled to make mistakes, and where innovation is assigned a central role.

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