Corporate culture – A barrier to digital transformation or stimulus?

Capgemini’s recent Digital Culture Challenge report uncovered a significant perception gap between senior leadership and employees on the existence of a digital culture within businesses. In fact, 62% of employees see corporate culture as the biggest obstacle in the journey to becoming a digital organisation. Alex Smith-Bingham, Head of Digital at Capgemini UK, gives his top tips for how businesses can foster a strong corporate culture to drive digital transformation.  

It’s safe to say that since 2013, digital transformation has been firmly on the minds of most business leaders. Whether it’s articles on ‘the essential steps for getting digital transformation on track’ or ‘how to transform your business’ digitally, we’ve heard it all before – go digital or risk falling behind. Yet businesses are still struggling to grasp the fundamentals of digital transformation almost five years on. 

One of the main issues is that leadership often underestimates the importance of nurturing a strong culture before implementing vast changes in the workplace, such as embracing digital. Without laying a strong foundational culture and aligning employee vision, getting them on board and making real progress can prove extremely challenging. More often than not, there is a disparity between leadership’s digital vision and their employees’. For example, our research shows that while four in ten senior-level executives believe their firms have a digital culture, less than a third (27%) of the employees surveyed actually agreed. It’s time this changed. Business leaders must accept cultural shifts as a prerequisite of digital transformation or risk failure.   

So how can you make sure your business is moving in the direction? Remember that making changes in the workplace is not achievable overnight, it’s more of a multi-year endeavour that requires patience, tenacity and constant vigilance. It’s often a gradual change – one which becomes easier once the first step is in place – and that’s creating a solid corporate culture. As with any new project, there are simple steps you can take to approach transformation in a practical way. Consider the following:   

1. Empower your employees to drive a digital culture   

Organisations need to identify and encourage the employees who can be “digital ambassadors,” demonstrating to others that new behaviours are not a risk.

2. Focus on behaviours instead of successes and failures with digital KPIs

Evaluating employees on outcomes and traditional KPIs might set them up for failure and create greater resistance to culture transformation. Therefore, organisations need to shift their focus to create performance systems that rewards positive digital behaviours. Employees should be assessed not on their success or failure but on their adoption of the new behaviours and how they adapt to these.   

3. Make digital culture change tangible   

Our research shows that employees are not engaged in the culture change journey. This disengagement is often due to generic organisational vision-and-mission statements that make little sense to employees focused on their day-to-day objectives. Leadership and management need to translate the broader digital vision into compelling and tangible business outcomes to which employees can relate, for which they feel accountable, and that they can internalise in their current roles. Only when this is accomplished that employees truly understand the rationale for cultural changes in the workplace.    

4. Clearly communicate a digital vision and have visible leadership involvement  

Remember that cultural change is first and foremost a leadership act. Leadership must visibly live and breathe the values that they are trying to embed into the organisation. It’s up to the leadership to be the role models and set the example for their employees.    

5. Increase transparency    

Internal social networks facilitate employee collaboration and help to connect the top and bottom parts of the business. Uniting the entire organisation with a bold, clear vision is vital to achieving your digital transformation goals effectively.     

6. Take a systems thinking approach to culture change  

Take a holistic approach to driving cultural changes in the workplace to get a better understanding of the current situation and culture in place, or risk moving certain areas of the business forward before others. With this method, boundaries for change can be identified and removed accordingly. Remember that digital transformation should not be approached from an individual perspective, but with all entities of the business in mind On behalf of clear outcomes – customer engagement; employee collaboration and asset connectivity   

Doing digital culture right 

It’s no doubt that digital technologies can bring significant new value, but businesses will only unlock that potential if they have the right digital culture ingrained. Currently, in most businesses, employees are side-lined and disenfranchised from the culture change journey, with the gap between leadership and employee perception growing increasingly worse. In fact, the digital cultural divide has widened by 7% points in the last six years and until the cultural gap is addressed, this percentage is only going to get bigger.

Acknowledging the gap is the first step. Digital is essential but only as part of the bigger picture. It can enable and facilitate transformation but has to be part of a wider cross-organisational effort. 

Businesses must begin with a clearly articulated vision and ensure their leadership practices what they preach. At the same time, they need to re-design KPIs to measure behaviours rather than just outcomes, deploy change agents to cross-pollinate desired behaviours, and invest in digital skill training and collaboration tools for employees. Organisations that invest in people, and align the company values to that of their employees’ set the stage for working with purpose. Ultimately, this creates an ecosystem that promotes learning, experimentation and growth.   

For further analysis and detailed reporting, read Capgemini’s Digital Culture challenge closing the Employee-Leadership gap report, written in conjunction with digital analyst and world-renowned author, Brian Solis. 

Alex Smith-Bingham, Head of Digital, Capgemini UK 

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