Culture Change is Critical for Successful Digital Transformation

Culture Change is Critical for Successful Digital Transformation

Adopting digital technologies is not about replacing an existing system with an upgrade or building a new website. Rather one of the most important impacts of these technologies is to essentially change the way people work. Adopting digital technologies needs to be seen as first and foremost a culture change or probably more appropriately a transformation of their culture. For the full value of the technologies to be realised, people will have to change their mindset and their behaviour.


Digital technologies have been on our radar for over a decade, with ‘social networks’ being the pillar that got our attention first personally and then professionally. Despite the length of time that has elapsed many organisations are only now beginning to take a serious look at the value that digital technologies can bring to them.

What is imperative for all organisations to recognise as they begin to consider how these technologies will impact their organisations, and start to develop a plan for adopting and integrating them, is that they are not embarking on another technology project. Adopting digital technologies is not about replacing an existing system with an upgrade or building a new website. Rather one of the most important impacts of these technologies is to essentially change the way people currently work. Adopting digital technologies needs to be seen as first and foremost a culture change or probably more appropriately a transformation of their culture. For the full value of the technologies to be realised, people will have to change their mindset and their behaviour.

Numerous types of digital technologies can be adopted by an organisation to be used internally as well as externally with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders. In its simplest format digital technologies encompass social networks or platforms, cloud computing, mobile and data and analytics.

To get a picture of why adopting these technologies means a culture change rather than simply being the introduction of a new piece of tech kit, it’s worth taking a look at one small example.

Consider the impact of adopting an enterprise social network (ESN) – that is, a social and collaborative platform within the organisation. At a bare minimum ESNs improve communication and sharing of information within the organisation because of their openness. The pace of change in our world today is such that organisations need to access information quickly in order for decisions to be timely and effective. Customers are demanding to be heard immediately and responded to quickly. Business leaders are recognising that instead of simply pushing information down and out from the top of the organisations, to truly meet the customers’ needs it’s imperative to access information from as wide a variety of sources and as quickly as possible. Using the closed email system does not easily facilitate communicating in this way, whereas the ESN does. The ESN was built for information to be shared and consumed in real time, for openness and to remove the silos existing in organisations by enabling anyone who wants to contribute to do so easily.

What’s important to realise is that successful adoption of an ESN means the people in the organisation, starting with the leaders, must be comfortable with sharing in this open and transparent manner. If an organisation’s culture is one which is not open and transparent, a culture change will be required for the adoption of an ESN. It’s worth mentioning that adoption of social technologies such as the ESN is voluntary and cannot be mandated – people will use them when they recognise their value to them. This is why it is necessary to acknowledge that adoption of, and engagement with, such technologies must focus on illustrating what benefits people will obtain, both personally and as it relates to the business. Placing the emphasis on the technology as being of more importance than the people will not result in long-term and sustained adoption.

Hence instead of approaching the adoption and integration of digital technologies as a technology initiative, led solely by the Head of IT or the CIO, the organisation is best served by ensuring that the technology areas and the business areas work together in partnership throughout the journey, from strategy design to implementation and integration. To get an idea of the true impact of how these technologies will impact the organisation, one of the first steps must be to identify their impact on the people in the organisation and what it will take for them to fully embrace the new technologies in order for the anticipated value to be realised.

It is known that when it comes to change, people usually think first about what they will have to give up. Change has a psychological effect on people and often the resistance experienced is based on the fear of losing something important or precious. In addition to careful planning, successful transformation hinges on communication. Being able to articulate the value that will be gained from any changes in order to allay, if not completely remove all, fears which will arise is essential. This can be achieved by ensuring that the initial and ongoing communication does the following:

  • Clarifies the purpose for going down this path
  • Paints a picture of what the new future will look like, including incentives, and that they are embarking on a journey
  • Outlines the plan and process for how it will be achieved, including the difficulties which will be faced
  • Identifies the part that everyone will need to play in the plan; showing how everyone must get involved for the transformation to be successful

Communicating in this way confirms that the impact of the change on the people and the culture is of paramount importance. It sets an expectation that everyone is in it together and that people come before the ‘new thing’.

If anyone still believes that a digital transformation must be technology led, my request is to consider the following: What makes a change – any change – effective, sustainable and successful? Is it based on people being commanded to adopt the ‘new thing’ or on them being shown the value it will have on what they do and feeling and being involved in the process?

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