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On a very cold afternoon in Cambridge we enjoyed a quality and informed Salon focusing on the role of culture in digital transformation. The lead discussant was Tim Lancaster, AWS Practice Director at Arcus Global. The Salon, chaired by Robin Knowles, had contributions from all attendees.
To start discussions, Tim shared his insights into the key cultural factors important to the successful implementation of digital transformation:
Our lively discussion broadly covered the following areas with the key area of focus being around the concept of change management.
It is a common view that digital transformation is about technology but crucially it’s about people, those implementing, those taking decisions and those affected by change, in short all stakeholders. Organisations undergoing digital transformation have to appreciate, and be mindful of their current culture and how well it supports or undermines what is needed for digital transformation.
A lively discussion was held on the role of leadership and how organisations often take on the personality of a leader. It was also recognised that leaders or champions can exist at all levels in organisations and that lasting change cannot just be led from the top.
Crises can be great for gaining commitment to change but they can also undermine change because people under stress tend to get tunnel vision and not be open to new ideas and new ways of working. Public sector employees tend to look to the private sector for new ideas but shouldn’t feel disempowered by this – wherever you get your ideas it is implementing that makes the difference.
Digital transformation is not about simply changing a paper form into a digital one. It’s often about changing the whole focus and culture of an organisation: Airbnb did not arise from hoteliers, Uber doesn’t own cabs and in the public sector transformation is often about taking power and choice from within the organisation and giving it to the citizen. But be careful; being radical exposes yourself to failure, this is particularly true of those who are elected.
Effective communication is essential and can be particularly challenging in large organisations. Ensuring that key stakeholders understand and support digital transformation and other changes through good communication is fundamental.
Listening to issues
People worry when change is happening and it is not enough to push them to support it. Making the time to listen to concerns and to help people to realise that their reactions are often mixtures of emotions, some positive, some negative, can be really helpful in enabling them to feel more comfortable and adapt more readily.
The biggest block to digital transformation is having to implement radical change at the same time as continuing with the day job. Change often evokes fear and one way to address fear is to start small and pilot change within a small area so that the people involved in the pilot can then reassure their colleagues and encourage them to change.