A few years ago, John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber wrote a parable about an emperor penguin colony in Antarctica called “Our Iceberg is Melting.” As you can probably guess, this fable focuses on the difficulties of adjusting to change in an often frightening world.

One of the story’s main characters is named NoNo, and as Kotter writes in his book “A Sense of Urgency,” “It requires very little imagination to predict how he reacts to any new idea.” Neutralizing NoNos is crucial to long-term change, because NoNos thrive on stasis. Great leaders, Kotter writes, “do not accept the notion that an organization must put up with people who relentlessly work to kill urgency.”

Digital transformation has changed a lot about how organizations operate. Customers expect higher quality services delivered faster. Yet when it comes to digital transformation, successful organizations understand that technology is just an enabler — that true transformation only comes by transforming the mindsets and skillsets of leadership teams and frontline employees alike.

Why Does Culture Drive Digital Transformation?

A study from Bain & Company found that companies focused on culture were five times more likely to achieve breakthrough performance than companies that neglected culture.

Ignoring culture is one surefire way to risk failure of your digital transformation initiative. How do you know if you have a culture that will support digital transformation? Here are some signs:

  • Does your leadership and management team rely on “what has always worked,” or are they actively engaged with customers and partners to develop new solutions?
  • Is information actively distributed throughout the organization, or do certain managers or departments control information as a means of power?
  • Do you move slowly and make decisions only after multiple business cases, meetings and reviews, or do you take reasonable risks in order to learn from what does and doesn’t work?
  • Are teams cross-departmental and collaborative? Are multiple teams working together to drive initiatives that are truly transformative, or are you simply tweaking what has always worked and expecting different results?
  • Do you empower employees to make decisions within their sphere of expertise, or must every decision be reviewed and signed off on? Are decisions constantly second-guessed by others?

To successfully support digital transformation, leaders must let go of old habits. The organization must move more quickly and you must communicate differently.

Related Article: Digital Transformation Success Depends on so Much More Than Your Technology

Learning Opportunities

3 Ways to Use Culture to Drive Digital Transformation

Digital transformation requires more than just new software. Embracing a digital culture can be a struggle, as employees mobilize around consistent touchpoints, new technologies and new ways of working.

Instead of looking at them as a liability, recognize the value of your employees to the success of digital transformation. To use culture to your advantage, leaders must reinforce the importance of all employees — regardless of role, seniority or department — to your success.

  1. Share Your Vision. You can’t simply sanction digital transformation. You must share your vision of what must be achieved, and why, in order for everyone in the organization to understand how crucial digital transformation is. Consistently reinforce your message through all channels available to you, and don’t forget to communicate consistently. It may seem like overcommunication, but for employees, this creates an environment of anticipation that will get them excited about the possibilities brought about by digital transformation.
  2. Empower Your Employees. Digital transformation requires rapid change. Embracing rapid change requires the consent of those who will bear the brunt of new policies, procedures and processes. Where appropriate, include your frontline in decision-making — allow them to provide feedback on what makes sense and what doesn’t. Enabling your employees to help make these decisions creates a culture of empowerment and trust, and engages your entire organization in the success of your transformation.
  3. Remove Barriers. Silos across teams and technology can stop even the most dedicated customer advocate from going the extra mile. Make sure that technology is helping, not hindering. Beyond technology, it’s your job to remind everyone in your organization, regardless of role, that they have an important role in supporting the customer experience. Developers, support engineers, salespeople, trainers, marketers, finance — everyone has their touchpoint in the customer journey. Help your team members make theirs memorable!

We can all change technology, infrastructure, processes and policies. But without changing people, lasting change is unlikely to take hold. Use this opportunity to open communication between you and the larger organization and instill a shared vision and purpose to your digital transformation initiative. By enabling a culture where all employees’ contributions are valued, you’ll ultimately use culture to drive digital transformation — rather than watching it fail due to inertia.

Related Article: Your Digital Transformation Won't Succeed Without Cultural Change