The Importance of Culture in Digital Transformation - mage by Gerd Altmann from PixabayNick Denning is CEO of IT consultancy Diegesis and a veteran of multiple successful business transformation projects. He shares ideas on how to turn your workforce into digital champions as AI, automation, and digital transformation projects fundamentally change culture and how businesses run.

Developments in technology continue at a pace. They offer new business opportunities, potential for efficiencies and fresh ways of working. Systems which support existing business models can become expensive to run over time and difficult to change – but they work… until the day they don’t!

Digital transformation is essential when the business needs to change faster than systems can be evolved. These projects are more likely to succeed if people are willing participants and even champions of change. So, how can organisations get everyone on board and build a pro-digital transformation culture?

Systems need to adapt when business requirements alter as competitors, customers and technology change. Resistance is possible from staff who believe they have a vested interest in legacy technology and systems, keeping the organisation tethered to the past. Essential to a successful digital project is that the leadership team embeds a pro-digital transformation culture into the business.

Building a pro-digital transformation culture

Creating a culture to drive business through new technology and methods involves a combination of leadership, communication, training, quality and continuous improvement. Objectives must be clear. Everyone must see a positive “what’s in it for me”. If previous projects have failed, addressing concerns and keeping people motivated and engaged is essential, given their expectations of challenges.

The board can demonstrate commitment by:

  • Driving change through a steering committee
  • The committee should be chaired by a senior executive with the authority to engage stakeholders
  • They should have the power to control strategy and drive decisions to deliver effective change at pace.

Articulate a clear vision and strategy

Define a clear digital transformation vision and strategy, but don’t keep it in the boardroom. Clearly communicate why digital transformation is important, what the goals are, how it aligns with the organisation’s overall mission and objectives, the benefits of success and the risks of failure. Carefully manage communications if there are commercial issues associated with suppliers or where uncertainty and rumour could cause employees to worry.

Communication cannot just be top-down. Encourage open dialogue, create channels for employees to ask questions, share concerns, identify issues and provide feedback about the transformation process. If there are people critical to the transformation or able to obstruct progress, what incentives can be created to encourage them to engage? Employees who are initially most sceptical can often be won around and turned into the greatest advocates if they are engaged. They know where the pitfalls are and can help to overcome them.

Most important, ensure stakeholders can trust communications. Give regular progress updates linked to evidence that the plan is being delivered to gain stakeholder confidence.

Opportunity in digital transformation

All change creates opportunity, yet it also involves business and personal risk. The current staff may not have the experience to manage such a project, yet it is vital to create a positive culture. Bring in the right people to lead best practice adoption so that from the beginning, staff see that the business’s commitments are kept and trust is retained. Create a desire among employees to be part of this important project.

If there is a need to shed staff over time, then manage this carefully. Plan for early internal transfers to new and exciting long-term roles to allay fear among staff critical to success, motivating them to remain. This ensures critical knowledge is transferred through a documented handover process. It will start with the concept of change and information sharing essential to building a pro-digital transformation culture.

Empowerment and experimentation

Digital Transformation not only changes technology, it can also radically alter how the organisation works. Adopting new methodologies for UX design and developing open architectures will provide an agile platform to respond quickly to changing business needs and help create better applications. To deliver success, train staff and let them gain experience in the new technologies and methods at a realistic pace.

The technology expertise has to be built up without losing the existing business knowledge. Allow time to train up existing staff who know the business. Also, bring in technology experts, allowing them time to learn about the business. Start slow, experiment, innovate, have parallel work streams and deliver in phases for a competent and confident team that establishes standards and proves the approach to de-risk the design before scaling up.

Encourage innovation

Foster a culture where employees are encouraged to experiment, identify and take risks with mitigations in place, and come up with creative solutions using digital tools. Celebrate and reward employees who contribute innovative ideas or drive successful digital initiatives. Make it more valuable to come up with innovations rather than profit from outdated knowledge.

Embrace agile methodologies by breaking down large projects into smaller, manageable tasks that can be completed in iterative cycles. Try Innovations quickly, discard them as quickly if they don’t deliver the expected benefits. Data-driven decision-making should be encouraged, rather than emotional or political ones, and so the organisation needs to provide access to relevant data and analytics tools.

Change Management Culture too

If the aim is digital transformation, then it would be foolish not to plan for how the organisation manages change. It is likely that the first thing that must change is the culture. It probably has to start with changing management culture.

Anticipate and address resistance to change with a well-defined plan that includes communication, stakeholder engagement, and addresses concerns head on rather than ignoring them. Identify and empower digital transformation champions. Select individuals and teams enthusiastic about digital transformation which can serve as role models and advocates.

Digital ambassadors may come from unexpected places. They might be:

  • Junior employees who bring fresh ideas
  • Longer serving staff who have experience of historic project successes and failures
  • Individuals who have worked at competitors or in different industries.

If there is a history of resistance to change, then it may be essential to create a separate team to develop the new culture. Recruit from within the organisation, individual by individual, separating them from the old and indoctrinating them into the new way.

Think Big, Act Fast, Do Small

Winning the hearts and minds of all stakeholders relies on creating the vision, delivering what was promised, meeting milestones, and showing coherent and successful progress towards the end goal. Acknowledging the change from capital projects to operational spending and the adoption of continuous improvement is essential.

Once adopted, digital transformation continues to significantly impact the organisational model, staff management, and financial performance. These strategies, simple to describe but tricky to implement, can deliver an organisation that embraces digital transformation, fosters innovation, and positions itself for continued success as the digital revolution continues.

Diegesis LogoDiegesis is a business technology and IT systems integration company that specialises in delivering outcomes using RDBMS, integration and data analytics technology. The company has a proven track record delivering successful projects that provide tangible business value to large and mid-size organisations through the effective combination of people, process and technology. Diegesis specialises in helping organisations to release the hidden knowledge and wisdom from within their entire range of diverse sources of information (documents, emails, core business systems and applications, databases, intranet, internet and presentations) to support swift and effective decision-making. For more information, visit


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