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When digital transformation meets culture

Winning the hearts and minds of your employees.


@kkipras via Unsplash

Unleash Your Technology Find out how you can implement a successful digital transformation in your organization and drive conviction and adoption amongst your employees.

  • In our research for the upcoming UNLEASH report on ‘Why HR Projects Fail’, respondents cited poor change management as one of the biggest challenges.
  • Even in ‘agile’ organizations, employers are often surprised at how resistant to change their employees are.
  • For HR projects to be successful, the change must live in the collective hearts and minds of your workforce.

Change and transformation in an organization is no easy feat. There will be a cultural path worn deep from years of the same management, core values and beliefs, and the workforce will feel dependent on the same technologies and processes that they have always used. 

We only have to look at the quantum shifts in working we have witnessed in 2020 to see that times of uncertainty and transition can be extremely tough for people. Even when change is done well, it often drains energy levels, increases anxieties and acts as a key driver of stress. Therefore when significant changes are initiated within organizations, it is only natural for people to get stuck in their ways, respond defensively and, in some cases, refuse to get on board. Despite this, HR are often still surprised and unprepared for the hefty unexpected price that comes with digital transformation projects and, even companies that are known for their agility and innovation, find their employees are often resistant and afraid of change.

For organizations seeking to become more adaptive and innovative, culture change is often the most challenging part of the transformation.

Bryan Walker, Partner and Managing Director, IDEO

As organisations repurpose and adapt, culture change is often the most challenging part of the transformation. But successful cultural change in a digital transformation project cannot be achieved through superiors sending an email and expecting the workforce to just go with it. Culture change must live in the collective hearts and minds of your workforce. Someone with a senior-level title can give commands, but they can’t drive conviction, passion or adoption. So how can you drive collective user adoption and cultural change in your organization? 

@wilsvanzyl via Twenty20

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Start Your Digital Transformation by Understanding Your Workplace Culture 

“Look at the employees and their interaction in your organization with the eye of an outsider. Pretend you are an anthropologist observing a group that you have never seen before.”

Susan Healthfield, The Balance

Before you embark on an organization-wide digital transformation project, you need to understand how your current culture works. You must become an impartial observer of your culture in action. How do your managers interact with employees? How do your senior managers lead? 

Observe how emotions play out in the workplace. This might be hard in today’s working environment where most lack a physical office space but virtual meetings and chats are still a good way to understand your employees emotions. Is there tension between employees? How do employees react to positive and negative feedback? Are employees enthusiastic about their work, or do they seem disconnected ? Emotions can be your key indicators of workplace culture, and there is a lot to learn from them. 

Look at your individual teams and they dynamics they have created and the personality that they hold. In the physical office space you would look if there much color, light, family photographs, plants, or artwork at their desks or instead a more sterile environment. Being remote can make this much harder to examine but you can still provide opportunities for them to share some of their passions/interests out of work. What does their home office look like? Whether they listen to music as they work or even the name of their pet. You can pick up a lot about workplace culture from listening and observing individuals and teams.

Create Your Vision of Change 

@chanelpluscat via Twenty20

Sensible” and “appealing” are important parts of that equation 

Your organization must decide on its next strategic direction. What does the ideal organizational culture look like that supports your digital transformation initiatives? What vision does the organization have for the future, and what does a successful future look like? How must the culture change to support this vision?If your employees are not persuaded by your vision of change you cannot expect culture to change anytime soon.

The change vision and strategy give the organization a picture of what the future looks like after the change is implemented. It tells organizational stakeholders why they should let go of the past, sacrifice, and work hard in the present, and follow senior leadership into the future. It creates a sensible and appealing picture of the future, and it provides guidance for organizational decision making. “Sensible” and “appealing” are important parts of that equation. 

Managers and employees especially will want to know that the proposed change is feasible and desirable. If either is missing, they won’t embrace the change — it’s not in the interest of managers or employees to make sacrifices for a future that’s worse than the present. Senior leadership and the guiding coalition must develop a compelling message that will tell managers and employees that the future is a desirable place to go. 

Getting Your Organization to Accept Change 

@csbramlett via Twenty20

When an organizational culture is already established, employees must unlearn their old values, assumptions and behaviors before they can open their hearts and minds to something new. 

It’s always more difficult to change the culture of an existing organization than to create a culture in a fresh organization or team. When an organizatinal culture is already established, employees must unlearn their old values, assumptions and behaviors before they can open their hearts and minds to something new. You need to win over your workforce, and that is not easy. But with the right executive support and training — the two most crucial elements for creating organizational culture change — you will find success. 

Needless to say, executive support must come from your senior executives. They must support the cultural change, and in ways that go beyond words. Executives must lead by changing their own behaviors if they’re going to expect changes from their workforce. It’s extremely important for executives to consistently support the change, as this will send the right message down through the organization and across individual project teams and employees. 

Perhaps the hardest step of all is getting your employees to the level at which they can accept change and the needed new processes and systems. Your employees will need consistent support and training to help them. Training can be especially useful in communicating expectations and in teaching new behaviors. Mentoring and effective communication will also help employees learn and change. Culture change depends on behavior change. Members of the organization must clearly understand what is expected of them and must know how to execute the new behaviors once they have been decided. 

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