Digital Transformation & Culture Fog

I’ve been thinking about Martin Couzin’s blog on his take-aways from Learning Live

I’m working with a client on a large-scale Digital Transformation programme at the moment. The organisation is taking time and real care to look at both the technology and integration of the technology to the organisation, with the intention to fundamentally shift/ modernise how the business operates.

The part fuchsia blue is involved in is inquiring into and articulating the cultural/ people readiness part of receiving & working with the technology….. and then showing the fundamental operational shift being discussed …then working to map/ articulate how digital working might actually work for the organisation…including plans, experiences, staff development and so forth.

As is so often the case with anything Cultural, it’s not straightforward to describe or codify. Organisational cultures are experienced, lived, created – they are based on stories and symbols, permissions and preferences. Whilst Project Plans & Operating Models are tidy and contained, typically drawn in neat lines and circles, with linear timelines and milestones, and held in diagrams and semi-permanent drawings, it is rarely possible to capture or represent culture in that way.
Try it. Try to represent your Organisational Culture in a linear fashion.
See how you go.

Operating Models are often complex, but they are rational and explainable – arguably why they can be drawn more neatly.
Culture is deliciously, annoyingly fog-like. Ungraspable. Fuzzy. But undeniably THERE and can REALLY mess up a Programme Boards ability to see, to deliver, to move quickly.
Culture eats strategy for breakfast?
Maybe, but I see it as less aggressive and obvious than that.
Fog clouds clarity.
Culture wraps and curls itself into everything – it permeates hard logic and befuddles clear lines. It is unquestionably present in pretty much every aspect of organisational life… so it kind of tickles me when it’s pinned in as a workstream to be managed. Manage fog, please & then tell me how you did it. (For the record, this client isn’t approaching culture as a workstream – it’s becoming a core part of the design and thinking behind the integration of the tech and it is still taking us some time to figure out how to knit successful delivery of the tech with the cultural information and behaviours identified. It’s not straightforward.)

Ok. So what?

Well, if you are looking to actually transform any part of your culture (digital or otherwise)It’s pretty much essential to understand and work with where you are at now. If you don’t get the real picture of the density of the fog (including inconvenient truths about politics, leadership capability and willingness to give a damn about the future) you are opening yourself up to risks, unseen resistance and lost opportunities/ ideas.
Successfully navigating digital transformation requires the ability to work both with clear structure AND the capacity to work with foggy wooliness/ ambiguity. Sometimes the former is favoured over the latter because the latter is, frankly, a pain in the arse to articulate.
I get that…and it’s wise to get over it.

Operating Model/ Visioning type conversations are an essential part of any process of digital / cultural transformation, however, they tend to be concept heavy, hypothetical, maybe even altruistic & don’t really relate to folks’ day to day experiences of the job they do. (To be clear, an operating model might relate to WHAT folk do, but rarely covers how or why they do it that way).

“Visioning exercises” are great as a means to show where to & how we might get to a transformative point, but it’s folly (in my view) to believe these will somehow “transform” behaviour. Explaining future-states is not how we adapt. If anything it can freak folk out and encourage them to double-down on what they know. Explanation isn’t how we shift folk. Experience is.

We need to bring Operating Models & Visions to life – let staff experience them, talk about them, create them, build stories around them. We have to give staff experiences of what they will use and a say in what they are unlikely to welcome (and they may need to be challenged on this, because often we will claim we don’t need/won’t use/ can’t imagine a thing which actually, given a wee nudge is exactly what’s useful).

If you are seeking digital transformation, the success is boringly analogue. Bring your people in to be part of the design, and not in a tokenistic way… start booking rooms and getting facilitators trained at the procurement stage. Start thinking about how you will use audio, video, the physical spaces in your organisation, to encourage and support folk to interact with what is going on. How will you connect your people to the concept?

If the message is: “We are going to Transform” then work with the reality that new habits take 21 days to form – how much time do we need to allocate to staff to get using this new stuff well, accurately etc? Almost certainly more than you have built in (unless your culture is good at this stuff, in which case, work with that) –

We equally need to do some sort of opposite thing with Culture. Make it less internally experienced, more externally tangible and clear. In this particular piece of work, we are developing a number of areas where we can “benchmark” culture. I get that benchmarking culture is broadly an impossibility, but what we are trying to do is codify & articulate parts of the current behaviours / attitudes, the actions or skills that are more likely to help successfully shift people’s actions and willingness to work with the digital solutions they are being asked to take on.
It gives us points of focus in the fog.
It takes time.
It takes explanation and constantly asking folk who like clarity to have patience with fog.
It’s worth it, if you can make the case to stick with it.

The question that arises, for me, from all of this is perhaps age-old:
How much time have you allocated to the people-part of the transformation and, knowing what we know about the time and effort it takes to create behavioural shift, is it enough?

About me:

Julie Drybrough is a Organisational Consultant, facilitator, executive coach, blogger & dialogue guide. Working with people & orgs to improve conversations, relationships & learning – Doing stuff with love.

Find me on Twitter @fuchsia_blue