Digital Transformation doomed to fail! Culture with a sting in the tale (wink, wink)

Here’s a story told in a simple way about average people, living average lives, working for an average business. 

James is finance manager at LMN Limited.  He’s been working there for about three and a half years, and in that time, the business has seen a new CEO come on board and a few change initiatives happen in the sales area and service area of the business. He can’t tell you exactly what those initiatives were about, and even more, he can’t really tell you what they achieved.

James is on his way to the staff café to grab a coffee mid morning one day, when he walks past a meeting room where a meeting is being held. He looks at a screen and sees something, which looks like "Digital Strategy, Workforce Modernisation Through Technology" and hears what he thinks is 20% reduction being quoted.

In the café James bumps into Hilary from Customer Service. He mentions what he’s seen and Hilary immediately replies:  “I knew it! I had heard something about a digital strategy from my boss in our weekly meeting last Monday but it was pretty vague. They are going to reduce the workforce by 20% by using technology! Oh my god, that’s got to mean losing people in my area right? I can’t believe it”.

Hilary returns to her desk with a tale that stings it’s way throughout the customer services area, festering and breeding more words and embellishments like staff reductions, takeovers, 40% redundancies…you name it, they are talking about it with increasing nervousness and a lack of trust.

James returns to the finance area and talks to Sharon and Steve who run Accounts Payable and Receivable. The story he tells them immediately gets both worried about how 'they' (a collective term for the leadership team and the elusive digital team - firmly cementing a barrier between them and us) will bring technology in to replace their jobs. Steve calls his wife, then a recruitment company, he’s only been there 8 months, so first in first out gives him the sense that he’s going to be first to get the boot, whatever happens.

Unbeknown to everyone who connects with this simple story initiated in the café, the meeting that was happening went something like this:

With our new digital strategy we will be able to bring about technology changes that will enable our staff to become more empowered in their roles and achieve 20% reduction in transactional errors, making for happy workers and happy customers.

A month later, when things have settled down - into a general understanding that this digital strategy is clearly not to be trusted - the CEO sends out an email (they are not on Slack yet!) talking about a fantastic new technology that will be implemented over the coming weeks as part of the new digital strategy. It will bring about fantastic efficiencies and increase productivity in the customer services and sales areas of the business. He urges everyone to get on the bus and join with the leadership team and the digital team in making sure this is a success.

Over the following weeks, workshops and training sessions on the new technology take place across these two business areas. But engagement is low and there is resistance to change within certain groups, even some hostility amongst one or two people.

Things are just really hard and no one can truly understand why…

Whether you call it a digital strategy, transformation strategy or modernisation strategy, no one really cares.  What the individual really cares about is having voice and visibility of what this all means to them personally.  Having context of their role in the overall picture. If this scenario was played out a second time with full transparency and inclusion of the workforce in the development and approval of the so called digital strategy, things would be very different. Even more important, though subtle, is placing the right level of focus on the organisational culture from the very start, something which could have negated what took place in the café even happening.

Culture exists whether you actively consider it or not.  But the one you let develop and nurture of it’s own accord you have no control over, no way of really nurturing and using as an enabler for change.

Digital Transformation is doomed to fail if your cultural story has this sting in it’s tale.


All the characters, situations and scenarios mentioned in this story are completely fictional.