Following on from my earlier article about digital transformation, I want to continue my observations by focusing on the culture change necessary to successfully transform an organization. This is in fact one of the key reasons why some digital transformation projects fail. The emphasis for digital transformation is often on technology—naturally a digital project must involve technology, but the cultural change is often where the real work needs to take place.
This problem is easily illustrated by the difference between classic operational planning and Agile management methods. In a traditional business environment, a manager will propose a project with a budget and timeline. His or her manager will approve or modify the plan and once it is approved, the project will take place and success or failure is judged at the end of the delivery cycle.
So, in this environment, a two-year plan to transform Customer Relationship Management (CRM) would have a project plan and budget and success would be declared at the end of the two years. If the project is a disastrous failure then the project team has been paid for two years only to deliver a mess. No doubt the project manager can move on to another company, claiming two years experience of delivering change.
The Agile methodology proposes a “fail fast, learn fast” philosophy. The project is divided into many small chunks called “sprints”: for example, each sprint may be set at two weeks. The project team has to deliver a new product with incremental change every two weeks. Sometimes they will fail and may need to roll back a sprint, but the emphasis is on constantly delivering and constantly improving.
The cultural shift is obvious. If you are prepared to try something new, and frequently, then there is a strong chance that some projects or processes may fail. In a traditional business context this could mean the end of your employment—delivering failure isn’t what project managers get paid for. In an Agile environment failure is expected to happen sometimes because failure helps the team learn what they should not be doing: it guides them in the right direction on the next sprint.
This feature in the British magazine Computer Weekly features some excellent case studies such as The Economist Group, demonstrating how cultural change actually underpins all successful digital transformation projects. Reading the case studies, I can see five key elements for executives who want to change their corporate culture successfully:
- Support must come from the top: If you are telling everyone in the company that we need to follow a new direction but the executive team continue behaving as if nothing has changed, then your transformation program is doomed. They need to lead and show how the company will look in future.
- Communicate the vision and plan: You can never under-communicate. Be clear, consistent, and continuous in your communication. Ensure that everyone at every level of the company knows about the plan, where you are and where you are going, and what their role is in the change.
- Encourage acceptance: Some people hate change, some people may fight back or just refuse to operate using new procedures. Build understanding and show short-term wins. The use of change agents—ordinary workers highly educated in the future plan—can also help to ensure believers are spread throughout the company.
- Get the tools: Ensure your team has access to the tools they need to do their job. Maybe life was simpler before the transformation, but ensure that whatever you expect of your team is possible with the tools they have.
- Education: Train the team and focus effort on making sure they are ready. You are planning to run the business in a completely new way so make sure that everyone understands the new systems and processes and has the needed skills in place.
However, the most important areas for cultural change are the first two points here. Once you set a new direction, leadership and new behaviors must come from the top and must be communicated at every step. Everyone needs to understand how the executives want the company to function and they must also see that they are committed and sincere about making the change happen.
A cultural change can take time, but with strong leadership, planning, training, and communication, it is possible to steer your team in a new direction. Then your only problem is getting the new technology to work—compared to the cultural change, that should be easy!
Let me know what you think about the process of changing corporate culture by leaving a comment here or get in touch via my LinkedIn.
Image: Christian Walker via Unsplash