Culture is the key to successful digital transformation

For many organisations, rapid digital transformation was crucial to surviving the pandemic

Economic pressure, as well as a host of unprecedented challenges associated with managing the workforce, was mitigated by digital transformation programmes centred around remote working.

Yet, as we progress beyond these challenges, the situation has changed. Organisations must now turn their attention to ensuring long-term success and development through their digital transformation. Successful programmes can bring a host of benefits that will drive business growth, such as more personalised customer engagement and more intelligent data usage, as well as introducing new methods of employee collaboration across the business.

For this to be possible, business leaders must put people and culture at the centre of their efforts. More than 70% of respondents to a McKinsey survey indicated that their business’ digital transformation projects have not gained the momentum needed to achieve the expected results. So, how can businesses use cultural change to move on from their current fleeting and disjointed transformation efforts, and ensure lasting success?

Create lasting change

One of the biggest challenges to the success of digital transformation efforts is the level of influence held by those at the helm of those changes. Our recent survey found that over 40% of businesses believe that their IT department is not sufficiently influential to plan and execute digital transformation efforts in their organisation.

Despite this concern, digital transformation projects continue to occur at a rapid pace. 65% of respondents to our recent research on post-Covid digital transformation indicated that most or all of their digital transformation projects are ongoing. This suggests that projects which are not primed for success are in danger of going ahead anyway as IT departments rush to make changes. As we begin to leave the pandemic’s remote working model behind, the consequences are becoming increasingly visible.

The rapid transition to remote work often presented challenges to employees which in many cases led to long-lasting impacts. Most notably, the solitary mode of working had a two-fold effect on both people and businesses. Isolated remote workers increasingly suffered mental health consequences related to difficulty in switching off after work, as indicated by 56% of respondents to a Royal Society for Public Health poll. As well as this, bad habits can easily be formed: isolation leads to a lack of collaboration and human connection, and over the long period of remote working, this is easily normalised. Beyond negatively impacting employees’ wellbeing, this can also hamper productivity and employee development.

Promoting people-centricity

Digital transformation projects are more likely to have unforeseen negative impacts when they fail to adequately consider how people will respond and adapt to technology. Digital transformation projects are almost always focused entirely on the nature of the technology being implemented, while the people who use the technology are a generally mere afterthought.

The benefits of digital transformation can only be unlocked if they are designed around people and constantly adapted in response to their experiences. For this to emerge as a priority, business leaders must devote their attention and resources to fostering a business culture which is centred around people. This is based fundamentally on appreciating the value of employees, but it is much more than this. Businesses driven by a people-centric approach will benefit from a wide range of advantages. Notably, an open culture in which employees can become motivated by a sense of belonging which extends beyond siloes. This will lead to better collaboration around a shared mission with which all employees are engaged in a meaningful way.

True people-centricity requires a comprehensive approach which accounts for every facet of an employee’s experience. Part of this is ensuring that employees are given the resources and support they need to be able to develop and progress, but it is also important to take people as a crucial factor in business strategy. Business practices and a positive company culture should be intertwined at all levels. If business leaders devote themselves to this outcome, they can create an optimised environment which not only drives productive and successful work internally, but which also paves the way for fruitful collaboration on an external level.

People-centricity is not restricted to permanent internal employees – at its most successful it factors contractors, collaborators, and future employees into the equation. By subscribing to a people-centric view, business leaders are also by necessity future-oriented. This cultural shift is accompanied by a strategic shift: for people-centric leaders, differentiating between digital transformation plans which are destined to create a long-term positive impact, and those which will soon become untenable becomes second nature.

Making cultural change last

A cultural shift might begin with authority figures, but unless it filters down and is accepted by employees at all levels, it won’t transition from idea to reality. This means that business leaders need to ensure that their view is wide enough to encompass all impacted parties, so that they can anticipate issues and incorporate solutions into their strategy.

Fundamentally, all parties must understand that a major digital transformation project requires a total shift in mindset: with a new method of working comes a host of adjustments and new aspects to consider. For example, employees may be required to adjust to new methods of communication, or to work across teams in new ways.

Successful and enduring digital transformation projects do not occur in a vacuum – a common cause behind unsuccessful digital transformation attempts is a failure to consider how the new technology can fit harmoniously with all other components of the employee experience and company culture. Before embarking on a digital transformation project, business leaders must first understand how this will alter their metrics for measuring business performance, as well as ensuring that their changes are both workable and clearly communicated to employees.

As businesses progress beyond their pandemic response stage, priorities are shifting away from survival alone. As business leaders look to enter a period of growth, it is crucial that they design and undertake digital transformation projects with a clear view of how they will fulfil growth objectives. This is achieved after taking the time to fully consider and understand how employees will respond and engage with new technologies. By positioning employees as the primary factor, IT decision-makers and business leaders will be able to ensure that their digital transformation ideas translate to a successful reality.

About the Author

James Harrison is Head of UK at Telstra EMEA. We believe it’s people who give purpose to our technology. So we’re committed to staying close to our customers and providing them the best experience. And delivering the best tech. On the best network. Because our purpose is to build a connected future so everyone can thrive.

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