Digital Transformation Ace Cards: Culture

This post covers the second of the ace cards that we want to have in our hands as we embark on a digital transformation journey. The first card — Ambition — is explored in a post here and if you’re looking for the introduction to these cards, then you can find that here.

The second card I believe you need to have in your hand is culture. It’s felt like culture is increasingly being explored in organisations so it surprised me to see that Google Trends shows that as a search term it’s been fairly static if not falling over the last decade.

It is important to recognise that culture is not one thing, nor is it possible to define it. Like values, it is more common for culture to emerge from an environment rather than to be specifically created. The actions that individuals (and groups) take creates the conditions for the culture to develop and emerge, but it is best considered a result of other actions rather than a thing.

Two definitions we use for culture include “the way we do things around here” and “what people do when the boss leaves the room.” Both these definitions should alert you to the fact that organisations won’t have one culture but that it will be something that emerges with disparate groups of people. This creates a risk for changes you’re proposing to make as it will mean you can’t take a single approach.

Having culture as an ace card has two dimensions to it. There is the awareness of the culture(s) that you have within the organisation and the culture that can help (or hinder) the changes you want to make. We should be careful to avoid falling into the trap that we always perceive culture as a barrier and something that we need to change. Working with your existing culture can be just as powerful as trying to change it.

To build up the culture ace card involves you reflecting dimensions — what you have and what you’re creating. They then need to be compared with the culture that you need. This isn’t a simple exercise of writing a list or following what has worked for someone else. You also need to have an aligned and agreed ambition for the change that you’re seeking to bring about. Only then will you be able to see what the gap, risks and opportunities with the current culture might be.

One way you can start is by asking some diagnosis questions. These are examples that you may want to think about to explore the culture that exists. It will be worth rephrasing them to think about your impact on that culture and then identify what we need for successful transformation.

When do you see people working at their best?

How do people view learning and development?

To what extent do people make choices based on a belief that it is the way we do things in this organisation?

How frequently is process blamed for something, and what action people take in response?

When people talk about change and technology disruption is the underlying tone one of caution and fear or optimism?

Is it usual to hear people talk about other teams in the third person (they didn’t do, they need to…) and/or as an anonymous collective group?

When did you last hear bad news about something (and in time to do something about it)?

There will be many other questions that could be asked. The key things that I believe you need to have within your culture include:

  1. An openness to change and desire to improve. Curiosity goes together with the ‘learn it all’ rather than ‘know it all’ mindset.
  2. An environment where unwelcome news is shared, teams work openly and recognise that it is people, not processes that get things done.
  3. We decide at the closest point to the information rather than being passed up a hierarchical chain
  4. We empower people to change things for the better and the focus is on succeeding as a whole rather than celebrating individual successes.
  5. Managers create environments for teams to be successful, defending their teams, and sponsoring their ideas.

The primary reason the culture ace card is not in your hand is that the culture isn’t understood and is assumed to be something that it isn’t. By equipping yourself with an understanding of the current position, then you have the power of the ace card to think about your impact and take action towards creating the environment that will foster a culture suitable for transformation.

The next post will explore the third ace card — engagement. We’ll be looking not only at how people engage with the ambition that you have set out but how when people are engaged with each other they’re able to bring about lasting change.

Written by

An experienced senior digital business leader with experience of delivering transformative change.

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