Building a digital culture

by | 10. 11. 2020 | Laboratory digitalization

Reading Time: 7 minutes

As you are thinking of transforming your business and laboratories to be more efficient, agile, and successful, you soon find yourself considering digitalization as one of the most promising options to achieve these goals.

This sends you on a digital transformation journey through which you will learn how to improve what you already have and implement new strategies, processes, and business models that will improve your work in the future.

“Digital transformation is a process that aims to improve an entity by triggering significant changes to its properties through combinations of information, computing, communication, and connectivity technologies.”

What is a corporate (digital) culture

Culture is considered as a set of values and norms that guide human interactions. The way that vision and purpose are expressed through work and leadership is what corporate culture means. It consists of:

  • Values, set by management
  • Unspoken assumptions of employees
  • Commonly accepted behaviors within the company.

When we ask our customers what in their opinion a company culture is, we usually get answers like: “Culture is what happens when the boss leaves.” and “This is how we do things around here.”

Corporate culture is extremely important because it ensures the coherence and continuity of an organization.  It is far more demanding to change a culture than it is to change a strategy. Company culture is deeply rooted within each individual as well as the organization as a whole. Therefore, it may hinder progress, especially if an organization is going through a major transformation, such as digital transformation.

When discussing digital culture, you need to keep in mind a couple of key features that represent what digital culture means. These are impact, data-driven decision-making, collaboration, open culture, consumer centricity, agility, and flexibility.

Why you need to build a digital culture

Digital culture is an important part of the digital transformation process. Human resistance to change is very natural, yet it can cause a lot of problems, if not approached in the right way.

Copgemini Consulting (2019) summed up the most common obstacles that companies face during the period of trying to establish digital culture:

1. The leadership doesn’t adequately recognize the importance of culture in their plan for digital transformation. Therefore, it is important for the leaders to understand the current culture, so that proper implementation of new values can be carried out in a way that is the least disruptive to the business process.

2. The corporate culture is integrated into everyday work processes and it is difficult to implement changes to it. Employees identify themselves with current cultural values, they see the old behaviors as essential to their success and perceive changes as a form of risk.

3. Everyone is becoming more digitally literate, including employees. They can easily identify when their leadership does not possess appropriate digital skills. That can cause disbelief in the new values of emerging digital culture.

4. When initiating changes in the company, it is important to empower employees to be a part of the transition process. Employees need to be encouraged to take on new challenges and be adequately compensated to learn new skills that will support the transformation to digital culture.

For you to better face these challenges, we prepared a brief overview of important steps you need to take into consideration when implementing digital culture.

Values of digital culture

When going through the process of digital transformation, you will need to transform values that identify your company. That doesn’t mean that you need to sacrifice everything you ever built, but rather re-define your current values to be more aligned with the company’s vision and strategy. You need to keep traditional values such as integrity and stability because they are still relevant and important. Some of the values you might consider adopting and are supporting digital transformation are (Westerman et al., 2019):

Innovation: Digital leaders will focus on the constant innovation process and assume that profit will follow.

Agility: When you encourage innovation, experimentation will happen more and more often. That will help to keep your company ahead of the competition.

Autonomy: Autonomy gives people the freedom to do what’s right for the company and its customers. It encourages innovation and positive risk-taking.

Openness: Openness encourages people to challenge the status quo and work with anyone who can help them achieve their goals faster.

How to build a digital culture in your company

1. Live your values

Leading by example can be the most effective way when you try to encourage change within a culture. Be as rigorous as you can in following new values that you set within your digital strategy.

It is important to keep the traditional values that still serve your company. That way you will keep the already known while adding new, more modern values.

Inspire innovation practices using different tools. Let your employees know that they have the autonomy to develop their ideas. This will lead to more openness and challenging the status quo amongst your employees, which will lead to rapid experimentation that can provide more and more new ideas. This type of work will ensure that you stay ahead of your competitors and keep your customers happy.

Reward successful ideas that are very customer-focused and highlight the importance of always keeping your customer in mind. Soon you will be able to discover new value creation paths.

Make your decisions based on data. Data-driven decision-making will increase trust in your management and consequently make the introduction of digital culture less painful.

2. Set the right goals and communication

Management plays a crucial role when an organization is establishing a digital culture. The initiative should come from top-down.

Management needs to continuously and consistently communicate vision, strategy, and progress on individual digitalization projects. Project-based goals and metrics need to be set. However, only include metrics that are relevant to a certain project and that everyone understands. You do not want your employees to lose time over tasks that are not important.

Information about successful projects needs to be widely spread and praised. This will reassure everyone that the company is on the right track and will encourage employees to approach digitalization projects with less skepticism.

You should also make sure to involve people on different levels. If people are personally engaged in the process of change, you can expect less resistance. Listen to their suggestions, feedback, or concerns, address them, and put them into effect.

3. Establish leadership

When building a digital culture, it is crucial to develop proper leadership that will be able to support this transition. Studies showed that digital transformation was more successful and smoother when it had been led by a dedicated leader, whose’ leadership style was aligned with digital culture values.

CDO (chief digital officer) is a leader that provides vision while proactively engages in the problem-solving processes of the team as a coach or a mentor. Strong digital leaders use less rules, but rather broad guidelines. So-called “servant leadership” offers employees more empowerment and freedom to learn from mistakes while taking a calculated risk (Guinan et al., 2019). This kind of leadership will encourage employees to continue with innovation practices and rapid experimentation.

While encouraging more self-management of the team it is still important to keep an eye on the progress they are making. Introduce regular stand-up meetings that will help you track the progress and give feedback only at the critical points. Team accountability can increase when their leader lets them decide on certain deliverables and timetables (Romero et al. 2019).

4. Involve your employees

One of the most common problems that occur during the digital transition of a company is the resistance to change from employees and consequentially unsuccessful user adaption. Digital transformation can cause so-called “innovation fatigue” when new technologies are being implemented into an organization (Vial, 2019). That is why you need to pay special attention regarding the ways the new technologies are being introduced, as well as which technologies are being introduced.

It is important to identify individual employees or teams that are enthusiastic about using digital tools. Consider employees’ roles and skills as well as their personal characteristics. Teams that are more agile, self-organized, and innovative, usually perform better. Moreover, they can be your ambassadors and spread a positive attitude towards upcoming changes across the organization.

When you are recruiting new people, it is important to recognize that the most successful digital culture stems from more diverse teams. Also consider employing or identifying an existing “T-shaped employee” (Guinan et al., 2019). These are the people who do not only have functional expertise but are also able to engage with different stakeholders across the entire business. It can be of great value to have someone that can understand the language, values, and culture of everyone involved in the process.

Recruit talents not only based on the skills and education they have but also consider their ability to think innovatively.

5. Monitor progress and measure success

You might strive to develop a digital culture that will lead to more self-managed teams, but it is still important to monitor the work that has been done.

Keep your meetings regular but consider them as an update on the work that has been done, rather than as an opportunity to give more instructions. Listen and trust the team you are leading. That way, your employees will feel more personally responsible for the work that they do.

Set transparent goals iteratively and keep everyone informed as to what is expected to be done. You might want to consider giving the team option to choose their own deliverables and timeline.

6. Provide adequate digital tools

If you wish to implement a digital culture in its full capacity, you need to provide the right tools. Your employees need to have the opportunity to use digital tools that will support and enhance their skills and competencies.

It is important to provide training and workshops for employees to learn and understand why they need to adopt new values and tools.

To enhance innovations, it makes sense to use supportive tools. You can establish digital hubs, where employees can innovate without feeling pressured. Another way to boost innovative thinking is through gamification it. That will bring employees reassurance that it is okay if they are taking more risks when experimenting.

Implementing digital culture will probably be a long-term process that will require dedication and mindful decision-making. But if done properly, it will lead you to be a more effective and successful company with empowered employees who feel personally responsible for shared success.

Sources

1. Copgemini 2019. The Digital Culture Challenge: Closing the Employee-Leadership Gap. 

2. Guinan P., et al. 2019. Creating an innovative digital project team: Levers to enable digital transformation. Business Horizons. (Registration required)

3. Romero D., et al. (2019). Five Management Pillars for Digital Transformation Integrating the Lean Thinking Philosophy. 2019 IEEE International Conference on Engineering, Technology and Innovation (ICE/ITMC). 

4. Vial G. 2019. Understanding digital transformation: A review and research agenda. The Journal of Strategic Information Systems. (Registration required)

5. Westerman G., et al. 2019. Building Digital-Ready Culture in Traditional Organizations. MIT Sloan Management Review.