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One of our large consumer manufacturing clients has a terrific digital transformation agenda for “Workplace 2022” with a robust technology roadmap, active leadership support, highly capable people across the world – and it’s firing on all cylinders.

But there is a block. The organization’s culture is resistant to change, silos run deep and habits of decades remain hard to budge. Ultimately, the great vision of work that this company has developed will be unstitched if these powerful barriers to success are not recognized, included and addressed.

However, this is a smart company and they are giving culture a part to play centre stage, with digital cultural diagnostics, engagement with key markets and business owners, and a patient and persistent approach to reaching the digital workplace goals that have been set.

Increasingly, culture, behaviour and habits are cited to me as the biggest obstacles to achieving substantial digital workplace progress, perhaps because many other steps on the digital journey are more open to control or at least to heavy influence.

So here are my 4 rules for tackling digital cultural change:

1. Recognize the problem that digital ways of working are new, challenging and require attention

The classic story is Barclays Bank. The bank is 330 years old and after the 2008 crash it found itself in a reputation “bad place”, but through a radical project based around harnessing younger workers as digital evangelists, a digital retail branch revolution has happened. The senior management saw the problem they faced and set about making a difference.

2. Get some real data and metrics around “culture” so you know what the problems are, why they exist but also the areas where your culture provides a solid foundation

At the client cited above, a diagnostic took place that, based on metrics and independent measurement, laid out what was working and what wasn’t when it came to culture. This external baseline report and presentation was used to galvanize people into action. “Here’s the problem, so what do you think we should do about it?”

3. Pick off the 10–20% of people, regions and business units that are easiest to change; don’t fight the “unreachable 20%” or even the 60% in the middle (percentages will naturally vary by organization)

Digital change teams usually fixate on the harshest critics and objectors. But it’s best to ignore these as they are the least likely and the hardest to change, so spending time on them is folly and will likely involve much wasted energy. Instead, identify and work with those business units with the most enthusiasm for such change; for instance, one large global retailer picked out the marketing teams, new hires and the Ukrainian region as three groups who were longing to make the new digital services work for them and started with these. This is both far simpler and much more rewarding for everyone. Others will follow based on evidence of improvement.

4. Engage this supportive cadre through face-to-face meetings, online interactions, local events and experiences

There is no shortcut. Put in the legwork. Get out and meet people, influence teams, units and regional leaders to play an active role. Patience, persistence and passion are what have made companies such as Adobe, EY and IKEA achieve real results.

Remember, as in life, there is no shortcut to sustainable success – put in the work and the results will come… eventually.

About the author

Paul Miller is CEO and Founder of the Digital Workplace Group (DWG), rated by the Financial Times in 2020 and 2021 as one of the UK’s leading management consultancies in digital transformation.

Paul is a business and social entrepreneur. His latest book is ‘Nature of Work – The new Story of Work for a Living Age’ (co-authored with Shimrit Janes). His previous book, The Digital Renaissance of Work: Delivering digital workplaces fit for the future (co-authored with Elizabeth Marsh), was shortlisted for the Management Book of the Year 2016 Award. Paul’s first book, The Digital Workplace: How technology is liberating work, helped to popularize and explain the term “digital workplace”. Paul has given many inspirational talks on the digital future of work, for audiences at Microsoft, IKEA, Google, Accenture, Harvard Business Review, Cisco, European Commission, IMF, Adobe and Oxford University. He hosts the Digital Workplace Impact podcast.

Paul hosted the pioneering internet radio show Digital Workplace Live and is Executive Producer of the 24-hour global digital experience DWG24.

Prior to founding DWG, Paul was Founder and CEO of communications company The Empowerment Group; Publisher and Editor of social and digital innovation magazine “Wave”; and, in pre-internet days, co-founder of the Ideas Café salon. He lives in the Cotswolds in the UK.

See more about Paul Miller on Wikipedia

Connect with Paul on Twitter: @paulmillersays

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