Why culture is the key to digital transformation

Procensol UK

Digital transformation is a complete reimagining of how organisations use technology to complete business objectives. In 2019 global digital transformation spend topped 1.5 trillion pounds, with investment expected to reach over five and a half trillion pounds by 2023. A lot of emphasis and money has been ploughed into technology, in the hope that it will fix the problems that arise when a new industry develops rapidly. So why is the digital transformation landscape still so fraught with stories of failure?

In a survey Procensol commissioned with CensusWide, we discovered that six out of ten businesses did not feel well-equipped or prepared for digital transformation. This suggests that technology in itself cannot solve the problems that businesses are facing – at least for the majority. So what is the solution?

In many of the companies that I have worked with personally over the years, investing in new technology is only half of the battle. Often digital transformation – and any other type of innovation, really – fails because the culture of the business is simply not ready for long-term change. I read once that digital transformation does not come out of a box, and this is true. It is a fluctuating, iterative process that requires all hands on deck if it is to bleed into the fabric of an organisation and change its thinking. Successful digital transformation, ironically, doesn’t begin with anything ‘digital’ at all – it begins with people, and aligning culture with future objectives.

Cultural change is the heart of everything digital transformation tries to achieve.

Succeeding at cultural transformation

One of the reasons that I believe cultural transformation is so overlooked as the foundation of digital transformation is that it is intangible. Culture, by and large, is hard to pin down, and often companies that are praised for their culture often came by IT through a mixture of circumstances, coincidence and business success. It cannot be manufactured or put into a spreadsheet. Instead, culture has to be cultivated through a mixture of vision, strategy and persistence.

Define your digital vision

One of the biggest reasons that digital transformation initiatives fail is that they weren’t thought through properly at the outset. Whether this was due to pressure to conform or to unexpected complexity mid-project, the outcome is the same. In my experience, rushing out to integrate new technologies without fully understanding the ramifications is the primary reason for failure. And this all comes back to establishing a vision right at the beginning. Ask yourself, “is this just a vanity project?” “What is the end goal?” If you cannot map out the process from beginning to end go back to the drawing board. You’re not ready, and it won’t work.

Point everyone in the right direction

Hierarchical thinking and structures rarely work in the modern business world. All they do is breed resentment and cause gaps in communication. A better option is to bring everybody into the conversation around vision and strategy. Empower younger members of your team to think about ‘hard things’ – they often know more about technology than you do, and will spot opportunities faster. By getting everybody on the same page like this, you get faster buy-in for projects that may have otherwise been met with staunch resistance. Remember digital transformation can be overwhelming, especially for older members of your company. By pointing the way and inviting everybody to follow, you make it easier for people to adapt.

Reward initiative and be transparent

Enabling team members to take initiative and share ideas can make a big difference to the internal perception of a business. It can also help with maintaining agility, which is key to continuously meeting customer demand. IT leaders know that the best way to build a great culture is to empower employees to solve their own problems and take ownership of their work. Let the stars of your team lead the way and champion new ways of working, which will in turn inspire their subordinates to step up their performance. Reward those that work hard and, more importantly, be transparent about the incentives on offer for those who perform. Workplace culture stems from meaning, which is within your power to bestow.

Start small and celebrate victories

Digital transformation is complex. It’s a long-term investment that takes years but pays off a thousandfold in the end. That’s why it’s smart to start small; on a relatively stable process or project that you have complete control over. My advice is to always “think big and act small” with digital transformation. Make a list of priority areas and then highlight one that needs immediate attention. This should be one, small, structured area of the business - perhaps something related to just one department - where you can see measurable results quickly. Cultural change is often the result of a series victories against the odds. It’s that ‘winning mindset’ that comes from successful work, and which is most often seen in entrepreneurial startups that have gone ‘from zero to X billion’. Whatever your industry, begin your own journey to a digital transformation-ready culture by getting some small wins under your belt and building that winning team spirit – then go after the title.

I hope this has been helpful and will aid your digital transformation efforts going forward. If you want to discuss any projects with me or a member of the Procensol team, send an email to steve.huckvale@procensol.com.

Steve Huckvale is Managing Director at Procensol UK, a process-centric solutions provider using low code applications and automation technology to aid digital transformation.