“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” – Andy Warhol

There are various definitions of culture; human achievement regarded collectively, the ideas, customs and social behaviours of groups of people, the attitudes of a particular social group for example.

Culture within an organisation is defined and structured through values, vision, ways of working, beliefs and habits, all of which are taught to be adhered by employees to ensure interaction with others, internally and externally is ‘on brand’ and the right decisions are made. But culture can be conflicting, humans are all different and instilling a desired culture within an organisation can be challenging, particularly if employees do not or are unable to believe in it.

Even more challenging is this move to embracing a ‘digital culture’. More and more we are reading about, experiencing and hearing about how businesses now need to have a digital culture, a digital mindset embedded through all departments and all personnel in order to remain at the top of their game.  And I believe this to be true, but what does having a digital culture actually mean and how do you get one?

Key aspects of a digital culture include:

  • Decisions are data-driven, not opinion driven. Ideas are tested and decisions are made based on real evidence.
  • Being customer-centric. There is a focus on the customer and what the customer needs and wants across all departments.
  • Transparency. Data is available across the business, commercial performance is shared.
  • Collaborative. Teams work together, this also means people working together who may not have done so in the past.
  • Employees are empowered. They are given permission to try and to fail and try again. Ideas can come from anywhere.
  • There is a hunger. A hunger to learn, a hunger to be more agile in processes and delivery, to pass on knowledge to others and to be willing to change at the drop of a hat.
  • Working tools are agile and tend to be cloud based.
  • Office space is open and provides areas for conversation and idea generation.

World class digital organisations have an inherent digital culture, embed knowledge, reward innovation and recruit the best digital talent. Most importantly, they are driven by leaders who commit to and support that taking risk is the key to success.

The issue today for many businesses, in particular big business is that they lose sight of their customer. Too many people operate in silos, there is no single-customer view and existing work environments inhibit collaboration. When comparing this to organisations that do have a digital culture, who can respond to change faster and have a inherent focus on the customer and on data, it is a no brainer that there will be winners and there will be losers. Look at P&G, they invested in becoming more agile with better tech integration, improved business data and a reduction in micro-management. In 2013, they reduced manufacturing costs by over $1.2bn and increased productivity by 7% P&G’s 2013 Annual Report and compare this to Kodak, Blockbuster, HMV who have failed to change in the face of disruption and well, you get the idea.

Embedding or moving to a digital culture cannot be achieved overnight. It cannot be bought online (unfortunately!).  Businesses are divided, some people will embrace change and look forward to the future, others will cling on to their traditional ways of thinking and working.

“Culture is not something that changes with a memo from the CEO or with a town hall meeting. It has an intangible quality that requires sensitive nudging and precise targeting of new key behaviours, which is why changing culture takes time.” Booz & Co

However, with small steps a digital culture can be achieved:

  • Look for those in the organization who have a digital mindset. There will always be pockets of people that can be ambassadors for the cause, they can be the catalyst for changing the thoughts and ideas of others.
  • Ensure the most senior execs support and demonstrate buy-in to the digital culture. This cannot be done by words alone, changes in practices and rules can establish this over time.
  • Role definitions. Changes in job descriptions can make employees feel more at ease and comfortable with how their specific role will evolve moving forward.
  • Reward and incentivise. Find new ways to do this that incorporate both analogue and digital.
  • Encourage innovation and ideas.  Allow staff a percentage of time away from their day job to think about initiatives that could benefit the company and the customer.
  • Encourage and provide digital knowledge. This could be from external training, educating the workforce on how to access information digitally, taking part in learning communities.
  • Bring people together to understand the customer. Your customer is always changing, find ways to consistently know who they are, where they are and what they are doing.

The first stage though is discovery. Understand what the culture of the business is now and how you want it to look in the future. You will find there are many strengths in the existing culture as well as weaknesses. A step by step approach that involves the entire business will ensure that abandoning the old is not a scary proposition. Change is needed and it is needed now. Exciting isn’t it?!



Sources: Econsultancy.com, Bearing Point: Becoming a World Class Digital Organisation, Booz & Co. Building a Digital Culture, CIO.com

Mel Ross