Benchmarking digital culture is challenging. Anyone who tells you otherwise is probably just trying to sell you a culture survey and not actually trying to help you transform your business.

Full disclosure: I’ve worked with dozens of clients on culture benchmarking and transformation efforts. Over the past 20 years, I’ve seen a lot of leaders make mistakes that they wish they would have avoided.

In this article, I offer five tips that will help you avoid common digital culture benchmarking mistakes. They will also help you prepare your organization for the future.

Before you embark on a digital benchmarking journey, it’s best to answer these three questions first:

  • Why are we doing this in the first place?
  • What outcome are we trying to achieve?
  • How do we do this, and do we have what it takes to be successful?

By answering those questions and following the tips below, you’ll be well on your way to avoiding the pitfalls of digital culture benchmarking.

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

Tip 1: Clarify Your ‘Why’

The first mistake that leaders make when benchmarking digital culture is that they don’t have a clear and compelling reason for doing so.

Many leaders have a narrow definition of benchmarking. They want a quick and cheap answer to this question: “How do we compare against other companies?”

When it comes to culture, comparing yours to someone else’s isn’t always useful, and you can waste a lot of resources taking that approach.

This list will help you clarify your reason for benchmarking your digital culture:

  • To create alignment and drive strategy execution.
  • To explore cultural strengths and barriers.
  • To establish a baseline and/or to compare groups.
  • To predict employee or customer outcomes.
  • To improve the employee or customer experience.

Clarifying your why will drive decisions around what you measure and how you measure it. Therefore, start by clarifying your reason(s) for benchmarking your digital culture.

Tip 2: Focus on Outcomes

Leaders often fail to tie their benchmarking to business outcomes. Curiosity alone is not a compelling reason to benchmark something like “culture.”

For example, let’s say that you’re benchmarking skill sets within your workforce. Upon auditing your IT organization, you find that your ratio of designers to developers is insufficient for delivering product in a timely manner. What should you do? You must use this insight to drive business value (i.e., more timely delivery, fewer errors, higher velocity output, etc.).

Future-ready leaders have to get disciplined about taking action on their measurements, formulating a plan and holding one another accountable for making progress on the plan.

Cultures do not change through benchmarking alone. Focus on using benchmarks to drive business outcomes and change.

Related Article: Your Digital Workplace Is a Wicked Problem That Can Be Solved

Tip 3: ‘Stakeholder’ Like a Boss

“Stakeholdering” is a verb — it’s an action. Managing stakeholders like a boss requires that you have a plan, individualize your communications to potential stakeholders, gather relevant feedback, and think “depth and breadth” when it comes to recruiting stakeholders.

Learning Opportunities

IT leaders, business and product owners, and HR leaders will all approach a digital culture benchmark from a different angle. It’s important to get the right players at the table before you decide on your why, what and how.

Ask yourself, what does the business need from our digital culture? What does IT need in order to deliver on that business value proposition? And what people and process changes would need to take place in order for us to be successful?

Tip 4: Define Culture With Great Care

The digital culture of an organization is the sum total of lots of parts — some of which are visible and some of which are invisible.

The invisible parts of a culture include the following:

  • Values.
  • Beliefs.
  • Assumptions.
  • Mindsets.
  • Perceptions and experience.

The visible parts of a culture include things like these:

  • Behaviors.
  • Artifacts (e.g., systems, processes, rewards structures, etc.).
  • Norms.
  • Rituals.
  • Language.

Digital cultures are very complex systems because they involve humans and technology. And they’re always emerging and changing.

Once you have your why defined, make sure that you align all of your stakeholders on what you intend to benchmark within your organization before you do any kind of formal assessment.

Related Article: How a Strong Corporate Culture Translates to Organizational Success

Tip 5: Pick a Winning Methodology

Don’t try to be a culture expert if you’re not. Leaders who are responsible for creating business value by leveraging their digital culture are often not experts in digital culture or cultural benchmarking. They are business leaders, IT leaders, finance leaders, HR leaders or marketers, etc.

Therefore, picking a winning methodology to determine how you will measure the important aspects of your digital culture is critical to success. A good balance of quantitative insight and in-depth qualitative feedback is key. Don’t try to measure everything. Measure only the elements of digital culture that matter to your business and to your employees and customers.

Using cultural benchmarking to drive cultural change is the single most difficult journey that an organization can embark upon. These five tips you can help you avoid common pitfalls and harness the promise of your digital culture.

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