Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant, said that ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. He said this in the context of culture enabling a sustainable point of difference between organisations. Strategy can be replicated, but not culture. But a similar sentiment can be applied to the much used phrase ‘digital transformation’. The term ‘digital transformation’ is interpreted in a variety of ways, but one common definition is ’the use of digital technologies to improve the people, process and products of an organisation'. It sounds cold, impersonal and rather like a software upgrade. But we can’t yet push out a software upgrade to people. Changing the way people operate is a much more complex process. And without it there can be no true digital transformation. Digital transformation is about people not about technology. You can come up with a great digital slogan, have a launch party and you can put in place state of the art technology and systems, but if you don’t change the hearts and minds of your people, then you will not enjoy any positive transformative effect of digital in your organisation.
So what is ‘digital culture’? Digital culture is much more than technology. Digital culture can be defined as a mindset, a set of beliefs, a way of life. Bigger than technology, it incorporates the belief that we can do better if we are more collaborative, connected, adaptive, flexible, transparent, data driven, customer centric and agile. It is a belief that we can get things wrong sometimes, but if we work together and take an iterative approach we can create solutions for our problems and seize our opportunities. These are a challenging set of beliefs, They challenge the mentality of ‘the way we do things round here’, the ‘let’s keep milking the cash cows' and the ‘peddle harder’.
To create a digital culture, there is no silver bullet. No one size fits all. Hence Peter Drucker’s assertion that the right culture creates competitive advantage. Humans are complex. ‘Predictably irrational’ as Dan Arielly would say. To instil in people the belief that a new way of being is a good thing takes time, patience and a range of activities.
Yes the right technology needs to be put in place. There are a huge range of new technologies to help from Slack to Basecamp, Trello to Dropbox. And the devices we use are getting more powerful with every new issue. Bring Your Own Device policies are allowing for more of these great devices to be brought into organisations. But in all these cases a co-ordinated approach is required so that new organisational silos are not created with the new digital tools and so that the right balance is struck between accessibility and privacy, openness and security.
In terms of process, organisations are seeking to adopt more agile ways of working. Projects are being based around short timeframes, frequent user involvement and iterative development. New organisational structures need to be put in place to support these approaches rather than the rigid departmental structures of linear workflows. Innovation too is being encouraged through fresh approaches, from innovation labs, to standalone brands and investment vehicles. These approaches challenge established hierarchies and reporting structures.
People need to believe that these technologies and processes are for the good. They need 'to be the change', to channel some Gandhi. I believe a more mindful approach to leadership can greatly help in taking people with you on the road to a digital transformation. And too often it is forgotten that in creating a digital culture to believe in, it is as much what you don’t do with technology as what you do with it. All the technology advances we are experiencing today were forecast to offer more free time to think and create, but actually have lead to an ‘always on’ world where there is no free time. True creativity is hard to find when the first instinct is to Google it. A positive digital culture looks at ways to create space - physical and virtual - for thinking, reflection and creative thinking. I have been involved in a lot of digital culture change initiatives through my consultancy, Matomico, but perhaps counter-intuitively, it is through my organisation, Digital Detoxing that I have seen the most transformative change for the good in people’s and organisation’s relationship with technology. Not all digital culture is created equal.