An 8-point plan to drive a successful cultural change on the road to digital excellence

A successful digital transformation requires substantial changes in structure, systems, culture and behaviour at all levels of the organisation. The impact of company culture on the success, or failure, of your digital transformation should not be underestimated.  Digital transformation demands a cultural change, which is possibly one of the toughest tasks you will face as a leader.

To achieve your digital transformation goals you need to get buy-in from employees, some who may be working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, and others who may just feel uncertain about the changes, and influence their attitude so that they understand, embrace and advance a digital strategy throughout your organisation.

Cultural change begins with a clear vision of the future that must be driven from the top down. As a leader, you need to prioritise and be committed to the change to motivate the rest of the organisation to follow suit.

Here are eight pointers to help you drive a successful cultural change on your journey to digital excellence.


1. Communicate the cultural change and model the behaviours

Someone in a leadership position in your organisation needs to make the initial decision that cultural change is a priority. Once this decision has been made, start with a few management workshops about the change to get all your organisation’s leaders on board.

Once your leaders have been briefed, they need to clearly define and model the behaviours expected from employees and visibly embrace the organisation’s digital technology adoption.

Employees need to understand what the change is, why it is necessary and how it benefits them before they can relate to or support it.


2. Involve your people

Building a new culture where everyone supports major changes in how the day-to-day work gets done can be a slow and challenging process.

As a first step, you should make your employees feel connected to and involved in the cultural change early on by initiating open forums, discussions or feedback sessions. Any employee should be able to participate and raise a question or concern in a supportive environment. How do they feel about the changes? This is an important step in getting your people to commit to the change.

These forums or feedback sessions should be an ongoing discussion that promotes transparency, maintains momentum and continually reinforces the new cultural expectations.

Focusing on encouraging any existing behaviours that are aligned with your organisation’s goals is also a great way to motivate employees to participate in the change. Make a point of highlighting what is already being done well, and then build on these behaviours. Discuss some practical steps they can take every day that will reflect the cultural change.


3. Hire the right talent

From now on, every new employee needs to be hired for reasons congruent with your newly stated values. This is critical for the development of a new organisational culture.

The main motivator for the cultural change is your digital strategy. Share this vision with any promising new candidate and see how it resonates with them. Do they support it? Ensure the new candidate ticks certain boxes relating to the organisation’s cultural vision.

Throughout the recruitment process, be clear about the organisation’s cultural vision and digital strategy. You are then more likely to attract and retain top talent who are aligned to your company goals. According to the Quantum Workplace 2020 Engagement Trends Report, more than half of employees are looking for a new job or watching for openings.


4. Improve your onboarding

Now that you’ve recruited some top talent who are aligned with your cultural and digital vision, seamlessly integrate them into your company and its culture.

Introduce onboarding sessions, the foundation of an employee’s experience, and get senior management involved. Opt for joint labour/management initiatives where needed and focus on interactive discussions around your digital strategy. Use the opportunity to create excitement and interest in your company vision.

Your new employees can acquire the necessary knowledge and behaviours through these onboarding sessions as well as through the forums or feedback sessions dedicated to the cultural change.


5. Empower employees

In an environment that is characterised by challenging customer demands, huge advances in technology, and the demands of globalisation, it is vital that employees at all levels of the organisation can respond quickly and effectively.

The key requirement for this is a new form of work organisation that empowers employees to take charge of their social and technical work environment. Here is where the rubber hits the road, where your culture will be supported or sabotaged.

Ensure employees know what they need to get done but not necessarily how they should go about planning their day and performing their duties. Give them the tools, resources and advice to make decisions, but avoid micro-managing them. If employees are only doing things right because you spelled out every little thing, you haven’t created a culture, and you haven’t created an approach that is sustainable. A culture is a living thing, powered by and kept up to date by the people who are encouraged to be part of it in a meaningful way.


6. Document your standards

Everything that can reasonably be expected to happen to customers or suppliers needs its own standard. Develop these as quickly as you can. You may need to adapt your standards to align with your digital strategy which requires new training programmes and levels of capability.

Every standard also needs to include the reason for the standard, so that your employees know when it makes sense to deviate from it and still accomplish the objective. Use the standards as a foundation to encourage employees to show initiative and apply agile and innovative thinking – a key trait of a successful digital transformation.


Download the how-to guide: Leader standard work for executive leadership and find out more about a highly effective approach to developing standard work in your organisation.


7. Recognise and incentivise the right behaviours

Leaders often fail to realise how deeply ingrained culture can be in employees’ beliefs and habits. Recognising and rewarding the right behaviours therefore becomes crucial to achieving a lucrative, long-term change.

But it may be necessary to change the reward and recognition systems that are in place in your organisation so that they reinforce the new culture and its associated required behaviours. Clearly show the links between the improved performance and the behaviours that lead to them. Employees are motivated to change when new ways of operating are seen to succeed.

In the Quantum Workplace 2020 Engagement Trends Report, 88% of employees surveyed said recognition would motivate them to exceed expectations.


“Simple, public recognition is one of the most effective and most underutilised management tools.”

Lazlo Bock, former SVP of People Operations at Google


8. Nurture a coaching culture

Research indicates that a leader’s style has as much as a 70% impact on the climate within the organisation. A leader who encourages and nurtures a coaching culture within the organisation will therefore reap the benefits of a skilled, enthusiastic and committed workforce.

Try a formal and independent climate survey in your organisation to accurately gauge feelings and perceptions of employees. The climate survey will give you a snapshot of employee sentiment and provides a good benchmark against which culture change success can be measured.

Along with a coaching culture, instil a learning culture of continuous improvement that tolerates mistakes and supports collaborative problem-solving. Employees must feel supported and, in turn, they will be more supportive of the organisational changes.

A successful digital transformation is more about your people and less about the tech. And a cultural transformation involves changing the mindset and behaviours of your people, which doesn’t happen overnight. So, patience and persistence are required to continue along the path for the one to three years it may take to realise a cultural change in your organisation.


Download the how-to guide: Managing change across the organisation to find out how you can successfully engage with people at all levels.