Developing the Digital Culture of a Business

Recently, I have been researching what it means to develop the digital culture of a business. By this, I mean the people side of the digital transformation equation, particularly as it relates to large, mature organisations with a certain inertia around their ability to change to take advantage of the current wave of digital technology.

Digital culture is an esoteric concept (I note that it does not even have its own definition in Wikipedia yet and redirects to internet culture!). As described in the University of Sydney majordigital culture encompasses:

the internet, new media, and digital technologies and the roles they play in contemporary society, culture, business, politics, the arts and everyday life.”

In a business context, it is the interplay between people and the digital technology they use to react more quickly to customer needs for competitive advantage and value creation within the organisation. Digital transformation continues to be a significant theme on the corporate agenda, and research has shown that cultural and behavioural challenges can be a primary impediment to a successful change agenda. How then, to improve culture and increase the likelihood of success with your digital transformation?

My view is that there are four primary principles required:

  1. The right mindset: Fundamentally, it requires people within the business to familiarise themselves with and begin to use more modern digital concepts — what is often called the “start-up mindset” — the buzzword bingo that includes agile, lean, disrupt, fail fast, customer-centricity, MVP, start with why, and experimentation. Unless the team immerse themselves in the concepts and ecosystem of entrepreneurs and begin testing, adopting and challenging these, you are unlikely to get the ball rolling in the right direction. It will be all too easy for the team to default back to “that’s the way it’s always been done around here”. My favourite metaphor for the inertia of a mindset change is the tale of the five monkeys.
  2. The right toolset: Once you have the team engaged and primed with the right mindset, you need to ensure that they have the right set of modern, collaborative, lightweight and effective tools to help enable a digital culture. A quick search online will yield a plethora of articles around digital tools that start-ups use (such as Start-up Stash) to help rapidly establish their business at low cost. Larger corporations need to challenge their toolsets, ask if they are still fit for purpose (and in fact whether they still need to own them or simply consume them), and begin to experiment, trial and shift adoption of digital toolsets to more effectively compete in today’s VUCA environment.
  3. The right behaviour: This is where the wheels can easily come off — if your leadership team are not prepared to model the right behaviour and walk the talk to support the change required, digital transformations effort will soon stall. Primary contributors to a failed transformation include the usual change management blockers fed by: lack of buy-in and support from leadership, lack of aligned incentives across silos and fear or rejection of the new approach, or simply the inherent drag of existing process and procedures. It requires leaders not only to help drive change and unblock impediments, it also requires their persistence and course correction to effectively sustain and embed new cultural change. Leading this change extends beyond the organisation, by being prepared to work more collaboratively with the broader digital ecosystem and let go of services that may have traditionally been seen as an in-house competency to adopt faster moving external solutions which drive greater supply chain efficiencies.
  4. The right feedback loops: The Economist’s article about data being the new oil highlights the value of data, but this is a double-edged sword in business. Big data and emerging machine learning algorithms will yield new insights, but they also require sound business judgement as to whether the results are unbiased and ethical, and increase the duty of care with these data sets to avoid mounting cybersecurity risks and implications of new policies such as GDPR. Business leaders and the broader team need to gather the results of their digital experimentation and learn from them, feeding them back into the next cycle of change, but also challenging whether these digital transformation efforts are in the best interests of all stakeholders and whether they maintain alignment with the culture and values of the business.

Whether your efforts in developing a digital culture are driven by small teams or a group-wide transformation, it is important to keep these four principles in mind and continually check to see if you are really doing what is required to make lasting change to your business culture.

One final tip — there’s a simple starter of the Digital Service Standard courtesy of the Digital Transformation Agency which might be useful food for thought.

What is your view on driving a change in digital culture in your business? I would love to hear from you!

Written by Peter Jarrett, Head of Operations at Business Aspect, 2 July 2018.