Cultivating a “Digital-Ready” Culture to Support Digital Transformation

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Click to learn more about author Deborah Soule

This is the seventh part of a series on digital transformation. Read Part One titled Where is Your Organization on the Digital Transformation Journey? Part Two is titled Stages of Transition in Becoming a Digital Organization. Part Three is titled Learning from the Cultures of High-Performing Digital Organizations. Continue with Part Four Insights Into the Cultures of High-Performing Digital Organizations, Part Five, Characterizing a Digital Culture, and Part Six, Important Cultural Differences Across Organizations for a background.

Digital transformation must involve transforming the organization at a deeper level so that it can continually make the most of emerging digital opportunities. The ultimate goal is to build capabilities for constantly learning, innovating, and growing. The right culture for the digital age matches the speed and innovative nature of successful digital organizations without sacrificing integrity and stability. We call this a “digital-ready” culture.

There are no silver bullets to get there. Culture comprises a mutually reinforcing set of values and practices. Values on their own are not enough. The real results for performance come from practices.

Leaders of traditional organizations can follow these three principles to cultivate a digital-ready culture:

  • Grow the practices that set digital leaders apart. Encourage and reward rapid experimentation and self-organization within a framework of data-driven decision-making. Focus on promoting autonomy and openness to encourage employees to seek out new sources of information and let them know that they have the freedom to experiment.
  • Preserve valuable legacy practices. Recognize that integrity and stability are assets appreciated by customers, employees, regulators, and shareholders. Create guidelines that enable speed and autonomy without sacrificing integrity and develop easy ways to monitor and adjust guidelines without jeopardizing stable processes.
  • Reorient practices that are still optimized for the pre-digital world. The speed and interconnectedness of the digital world demand a new approach to custom­ers, results, and rules. Shift from asking about customer needs to anticipating customer desires. Shift from periodic performance assessments to ongoing attention to transparent goals and metrics. Shift from strict rules and controls to broader guidelines and transparent monitoring.

To get started:

  • Reframe the vision for a more radical impact to focus employees’ attention, energy, and effort.
  • Start selectively, perhaps with a separate unit that can safely experiment with these new ways of thinking and behaving.
  • Create opportunities for everyone to be engaged in the transformation, and strengthen employee, customer and partner relationships even as you push for faster, data-driven action.
  • Use your digital resources to make it easy for employees to collaborate and access data easily, quickly, and securely.
  • Use those same sources of information to ensure accountability and monitor results.
  • Balance short-term results and your brand’s reputation over the long term.

Becoming “digital-ready” does not require sacrificing integrity, stability, employee morale, or the company’s heritage. Traditional organizations can – and do – thrive in the digital economy by selectively melding digital values and practices with certain traditional values and practices that have set them apart in the past.

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