An old story about corporate culture runs something like this:
A consultant gives a seminar about corporate culture and the benefits of having a positive, supportive culture that encourages collaboration, open communication, innovation, and other goodies. Afterwards, a CEO is overheard to say, in all earnestness, “I want one of those cultures, and I want it Monday morning!”
At the risk of stating the obvious: The CEO apparently believed a company culture could be swapped out at-will, like a part on a machine; by force if necessary. The irony is, force is exactly how not to change a company culture except to make it worse.
Digital Transformation and Organizational Culture
One of the 3 pillars of digital transformation is organizational change: a willingness by the organization to look critically at its processes and make changes enabling improvement of one or more key business metrics using digital tools. These changes might involve reconfiguring entire departments, reporting structures, and job descriptions.
Changing a business process is difficult enough under the best circumstances, especially when business practices seem to be working well. Without a culture open to change, it’s a complete non-starter.
The first step in an organization’s digital transformation journey is to foster a culture open to changing tools, processes…even the organization itself. As the seminar-going CEO doubtless learned the hard way, this doesn’t happen overnight.
"Major renewal programs often start with just one or two people. In cases of successful transformation efforts, the leadership coalition grows and grows over time. But whenever some minimum mass is not achieved early in the effort, nothing much worthwhile happens."
What are the characteristics of a culture that is open to change? It’s a culture of open communication, where no one is afraid to speak up. In too many companies, people learn to keep their mouths shut for fear of one or more of the following:
- They will be blamed (or fired) for bearing bad news.
- They will be ignored.
- They will be ridiculed or belittled by their peers or superiors.
…You get the idea. In a culture like that, people don’t come up with new and innovative ideas. Problems may remain hidden from management until it’s too late.
If you want a culture where people express ideas for improving products and processes, a good place to start is eliminating those fears. It has to start from the top. All people-managers and supervisors need to preach it and practice what they preach. It’s not about saying you have an “open door” policy; it’s about actually keeping your door open and welcoming all who want to speak their minds.
Interested in learning more about the gap between digital transformation strategy and execution? Listen to our podcast episode below!
Encouraging Continuous Improvement
When people in the organization feel safe expressing their ideas and opinions, it’s possible to start a continuous-improvement program. All people at every level of the organizational structure are encouraged to come up with ideas for improvement. Numerous models for continuous-improvement programs are available, so choose one that fits your organization.
The improvements such a program encourages need not be high-risk or high-complexity digital transformations. They can be as simple as repositioning a machine or reorganizing a supply closet for better efficiency or safety. The point is: Everyone is empowered to identify and implement improvements.
When implementation results in a real improvement in a business metric, such as increased productivity or reduced costs, the person or team that developed and implemented the idea should be rewarded in some way. Recognition inspires others to contribute as well.
As the organization becomes more comfortable welcoming and implementing improvement ideas from all levels, it becomes possible to tackle more complex initiatives, including digital transformations. Although a typical digital transformation project has some form of top-down structure, planning, and budget constraints, there’s still plenty of room for stakeholders at all levels to be involved; not only as “worker bees” but also as valued contributors.
An important motivator for all participants is the “What’s in it for me?” factor. The goals should be made clear from the outset, and the benefits should be obvious; not only for the company as a whole but for the stakeholders in particular.
Any uncertainty will inspire responses ranging from a lack of cooperation to outright resistance. No participants should go through the process wondering if they will lose their jobs when it’s all over. They need to understand their jobs will be more interesting and rewarding when routine tasks have been automated.
Overcoming Fear of Change
“We’ve always done it this way” is resistance to change. Some organizations and individuals resist change because change can be scary. People become comfortable doing what they do. They don’t want their routines disrupted.
Organizations won’t embrace change until they understand the benefits of thoughtful, careful, managed changes in which risks and rewards are understood and communicated. By fostering a culture in which changes are encouraged and rewarded, you will find yourself in a much better position to realize your digital transformation goals.