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How to cultivate a digital culture

Written 12 June, 2019, 4 minutes to read

Few things – if any – have changed the way we work as much as digitalization has. It has transformed how buisnesses operate and laid new rules for competition, efficiency and productivity. But before you can even consider rolling out the technical requirements of digitalization, you first need to develop a digital culture – one that embraces digital strategies and encourages collaboration. And it’s often trickier said than done... Here’s everything you need to know about how to cultivate a digital culture.

Why digital transformation fails

Cultivating a digital culture isn’t as simple as ushering in new tech or ways of working and then just sitting back and watching it all take off. Ultimately, no matter how smart and exciting your strategies may be, they won’t transform anything until your team is on board. A third of decision makers said that their company culture was the largest obstacle to digital efficiency; the second barrier was a basic lack of knowledge of digital tech.

Another recent survey found that 90% of digital transformations end in failure. Companies are rushing to meet the evolving demands of customers without making sure their team understands or accepts them. There are lots of problems that can contribute to unsuccessful digital transformations, of course, but a consistently recurring theme is that leaders only consider a top-down approach, failing to ensure that team members are informed or engaged. But how do you do this?

Building a digital culture

While digital advancement is a natural part of running a business, simply knowing this won’t make people embrace it. The most important first step is to understand why people resist change. Key reasons can include fear of the unknown, lack of communication, unclear benefits or value, lack of skill, effort required to learn, a distrust of management, hardwired habits… and that’s just naming a few! So what are the best ways to tackle these issues and cultivate a successful digital culture?

1. Prioritize empathy

Few people would argue that empathy isn’t important, but in terms of getting people to accept and embrace your new digital culture, it might be the single most important aspect. Accepting that some people just don’t like change – no matter how exciting and beneficial it is – is essential; if you ignore resistance and plough ahead regardless, you may find yourself joining the 90% of companies whose transformations fail!

The first thing to do is communicate the upcoming changes with empathy: listen to your employees, ask them how they feel about it; if you see signs of resistance, try to uncover what’s behind them. But ensure you do this in a thoughtful, sincere way. Make sure employees who feel reluctant know you don’t see their reticence as a sign of incompetence or naivety – often it’s just down to a lack of understanding and it’s your responsibility to rectify that.

See how to build empathy into your everyday leadership

2. Transparent communication

Honest, open communication is the secret to understanding. If you want to cultivate a digital culture that thrives, you must ensure you have a two-way dialogue system, where employees can come to you and speak to you on a personal level about their concerns. They should never feel worried about the ramifications of voicing their doubts, so take the time to communicate this properly.

Moving forward, you need to ensure that all communication and developments are transparent. If employees think, even for a second, that information is being purposely suppressed, or a culture of secrecy is brewing, they’ll disengage entirely, and your hopes for creating a flourishing, innovative digital culture will shatter. Keep all team members up-to-date and share news in a collaborative way; this not only makes people feel involved and appreciated, but helps drive interest too.

Also, take time to consider whether your different modes of communication are transparent. Look at your social groups, internal forums, microsites and work tools like Slack – do these enable transparent communication, or are there any methods of communication you use that hinder it? As long as you have transparent communication, employees should feel able to share their concerns, allowing you to reassure and advise as needed.

Use this structure to keep workplace communication effective.

3. Enable and inspire

Digital transformations fail when employees don’t possess the necessary skills to embrace new tech – or, don’t want to put in the required effort to learn. Luckily, both of these problems can be easily remedied.

The first thing you must do is offer the right training. This doesn’t follow one simple rule – training needs vary from person to person. Speak to employees and find out what training they need, offer group training sessions as well as one-to-ones, and customize the training depending on experience level. Offer incentives, too: with the new knowledge employees will gain, will there be opportunities for promotion or advancement?

Ask employees for their own suggestions – what do they want to learn? By framing the digital transformation around their own development, employees will be able to view it as a positive for them, too. They won’t see it as being obligated to learn new tech; they’ll be developing their own skills and experience, too, and the whole transformation will have personal gain for them.

Also, be sure to consistently refer to the bigger picture. Ensure your employees know why you’re implementing these changes, and explain in a way that highlights the benefits for employees as individuals, as well as the company as a whole. That way, you’re inspiring and encouraging your team – not just to develop themselves, but to see embracing a digital culture in a whole new way.

Use these techniques to motivate employees to adopt new technology

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