Digital Transformation – Focus on Culture, Not Using Technology?

Recently, we looked at how Business Change around digital transformation should be different, we highlighted some of the ways in which Digital Transformation is distinct from other technology-enabled change, and set out an ‘agenda’ for the ways in which we think Business Change accordingly has to be different.  This article explores the first of these – the need to move from seeing this as ‘technology-enabled’ to a ‘culture change’.

So, why’s there a need for this shift?  Is there really any difference?

Good Business Change, after all, has never focused on getting people to use technology per se, but instead has looked to help people change how they go about doing their work, incorporating the use of new technology.  The focus has always been on the activity, not on the technology, or at least, that’s how Afiniti goes about things.

But Digital Transformation is frequently very different from other technology-related change.  If one of our clients introduces a new accounting system, invoices will not be issued if the relevant teams don’t change how they work to use the new system.  Or, if teams in asset management roles can only report on asset condition using tablet devices, then they have to change the way they work or asset management will cease to be effective.

In contrast, think about the situation if the organisation in which those asset management teams work deploys collaborative tools such as those in Microsoft Office 365, with its underlying intelligence.  Now, there’s the opportunity to collaborate within and across teams regardless of geography; to draw on algorithm-derived recommendations highlighting information that colleagues have found useful; and to share and validate thinking in real time.  But the key thing is that this is only an opportunity, and it can be ignored without impacting the minimum viable process that they have.  If they choose not to use the new digital technologies, they can still (at least for a while) continue to do their work.  They may miss the great potential for huge improvements in effectiveness, reductions in cycle time, or even increased expertise, but the minimum viable work will go on.

For real transformation you need to effect a culture change

And what that means, is that if the digital technologies are to bring real transformation, then Business Change is going to have to effect a culture change.  Business Change will have to support a shift in how work is done, so that teams adopt mindsets and motivations that are collaborative – so that asset management teams proactively and as a norm look for ways to work together, to learn from each other, and to gain insight from the technology available to them.  Global teams using regional processes will need to look beyond their local horizons to see the benefit of global, real-time collaboration and knowledge share. And that’s a shift in organisational and team culture.  Traditional Business Change approaches, focused solely on training people to use the technology and engaging them around the benefits are almost certain to fall short,

How do you change culture?

Afiniti’s approach works with four levers:

  • Understanding and working with deep, core organisational values
  • Engaging people with new, desired values and stories around them – the ‘to be’ culture
  • Changing visible and impactful organisational ‘artefacts’ that concretise these values: things like recognition and reward approaches; office layouts; systems; processes.
  • Intentional modelling, by leaders at all levels, of behaviours that demonstrate and live out the desired values.

We’re convinced that integrating a culture-focused approach such as this into Business Change planning and activity is critical if Digital Transformation initiatives are actually to bring transformation to our organisations.

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