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Effective Digital Transformation Requires The Right Culture. What Does This Mean?

01 September 2020, 06:57 pm


We started this series on digital transformation with an overview and listed people, culture and processes as the three factors that need to be aligned and in harmony before diving into digital. We then looked at people. Today we focus on culture.

Edgar Schein defined culture as the pattern of basic assumptions that a given group has invented, discovered or developed in learning to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, and have worked well enough to be considered valid, and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems. Culture is more than a broad set of aspirational statements, it is more than what they see, hear or feel when they walk into the reception of your offices or factories. Based on the above definition, there are a number of aspects to developing a culture. External adaptation and internal integration refer to how your company responds to the demands of the outside world whilst continuously improving how things happen internally.

A good organisational culture has three essential ingredients to begin with. They are leading from the top, empowering from the bottom up, and continuous improvement.

Developing the right culture in an organisation requires strong commitment from the leadership. This involves, recognising the need, being honest, setting bold and daring visions, and planning the execution of these visions, pulling people towards a successful future and so forth. No employee comes to work in the morning thinking they are determined to do a shoddy job. Leadership needs to commit itself to being an active part of the process, every day. This should not be just a box-ticking exercise, but has to happen due to a genuine desire. This is then followed by empowering employees.

Empowering from the bottom up is a matter of trust and transparency. Placing trust in the employees and gaining their trust. Consistent communication and keeping people apprised of what is actually happening helps build the much-needed trust. A good starting point will be to understand what their problems are, what is preventing them from being effective at doing their work, and how to minimise the inconvenience to them. Rather than simply introduce new ways of doing things and imposing new tools, asking what they think will be a good starting point. When people are asked what they think, they feel valued. Valued people are happy people and they become willing. Empowering people also means allocating resources to help them with implementing new ideas and methods.

Once you have willing people then, everyone starts to see room for improvement, how to do things better, they start going above and beyond the call of duty. When employees see the commitment, trust and transparency from leadership, then the resulting motivation and desire can be inspiring. Phrases like ‘we have always done it this way’ and ‘we don’t see a reason to change’ and ‘we don’t like change’ soon become things of the past and you will see employees looking for better ways of doing things. Yes, you will get somethings wrong, but mostly you will get it right.

Let us look at these with an actual story of bad culture at a manufacturing organisation in the North of England. The company has a good history and unparalleled expertise in a particular industry and family of components. However, a few years ago they were in a bit of a pickle due to a number of reasons. A noteworthy trait of the leadership was that they only ever addressed all their employees when they had to give them bad news. News of losses, job-cuts, cost-cutting and so forth. In their quest for an immediate fix, one fine day they decided to implement the 5S system and for one hour every Friday, all employees had to do 5S. It started off well, but after a few weeks, the employees were still expected to ”do 5S” at the prescribed hour every week but the leadership continued to do its meetings with no participation. Needless to say, the morale dropped and resulted in a mass exodus of numerous excellent staff. The point of this story is, there was no leadership from the top, there was no empowerment from the bottom-up and there was no desire for continuous improvement.

Now, this doesn’t mean you are destined to go down this route also. It is never too late to start. Bringing the right culture is something we at Equitus can help you with, so why not get in touch!

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