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Culture hacks: priming your organization for digital transformation

“If you get the culture right, most of the other stuff will just take care of itself." - Tony Hsieh, founder and CEO of Zappos.com

In today's digital age, the difference between a business that survives and one that thrives is company culture. To stay ahead of the curve, leaders need to create a culture that encourages employees to experiment, embrace uncertainty, innovate quickly, and continually learn.

When it comes to culture, the stakes are high

Unfortunately, traditional businesses are often more concerned with putting up barriers to entry, exploiting scale efficiencies, and minimizing risk within their established business models. Digital businesses are far more agile. According to research from The Wall Street Journal, competing against digitally native companies is the No. 1 risk facing more established organizations, up from the number 10 spot in the 2018 report.

Other research shows why digital transformation is top of mind for executives. Sixty-seven percent of US leaders say a business that cannot keep up with digital transformation will last two to four years before folding or being absorbed by a competitor. To overcome this challenge, traditional businesses are investing in digital transformation.

However, many of these digital-transformation initiatives fall at the first hurdle. The Harvard Business Review believes this could be fundamentally due to culture: “If people lack the right mindset to change and the current organizational practices are flawed, digital transformation will simply magnify those flaws."

In other words, digital transformation begins with culture, not technology. And if your culture needs transforming, you should know that it's no longer just a focus for HR. In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2021, CIOs will be as responsible as chief HR officers for culture change.

Hacking to help, not hinder

Let me share some culture hacks from other organizations to prime your business for effective digital transformation. In this sense, I'm talking about hacks as actions or techniques that can help drive change. As Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, explains, “Hackers build something quickly and test the boundaries of what can be done… They believe that something can always be better, and that nothing is ever complete."

1. Do a culture health check
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, believes the C in his job title stands for culture. The CEO is curator of an organization's culture, but a CEO's vision is a fraction of what is needed to transform company culture. For example, once you identify how to update company values, hold communication workshops to translate values into actions.

2. Experiment like a startup
In the past, it took P&G three years to bring a new product to market. By using a minimum viable product concept, they bought two new products to market in just one year. Other “lean startup" practices more traditional organizations have adopted include: daily “stand-ups" for faster decision-making, quarterly instead of annual planning to make room for experimentation, and implementing flat organizational structures for improved collaboration.

3. Don't fear failure but fail fast
Google X created a culture where failure is rewarded as much as success. This allows employees to experiment without fear. This led to good ideas being realized more quickly and bad ideas being left behind sooner. For example, you could initiate a time limit for key decisions to be made. It's not necessarily about being right; it's about empowering employees to act. And, when something doesn't work out, being able to move on quickly.

4. Support continual learning
Genpact is investing in Genome, which combines learning science and new operating models derived from MIT's Center for Collective Intelligence. The program identifies employees who have the skills and knowledge others need, and helps their peers put learnings into practice. Learning drives employee satisfaction, so consider how your organization could make continual learning part of the company culture.

In summary, culture is the foundation upon which digital transformation is built. It's not about the technology. If leaders want to be effective with their digital transformation, they first need to create a forward-thinking culture that puts everyone in the right mindset for success.

  • Dan Glessner

    Vice President, Digital

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