The Breakfast Club: How strategy is like Weetabix

The phrase “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is such a common expression nowadays it’s almost an annoying cliché, but in Digital Transformation it’s more relevant than ever.

When you join a new organisation there’s a lot to learn: policies to get familiar with, who’s who, ways of working and what’s expected of you. These are rarely learned through sitting down and wading through documents and reading page after page of corporate speak, it’s learned by engaging with the people around you and learning from them.

Office culture is incredibly powerful, it’s the proverbial ether that permeates the office. Nothing speaks louder than your culture, it’s what welcomes people in, makes them feel at home, engages their spirit, guides them in their work and sets the tone for what’s expected with them. It lives within the hearts of the employees and reverberates in the way they work; culture is the very identity and DNA of an organisation. People stay for culture, it’s what bonds the workforce together into a cohesive unit. If the departments are the cogs of the machine, then culture is the grease that keeps things moving.

No clearer is that true than in Digital Transformation, even the best laid plans and strategies will come to no avail if you do not work with the workforce to integrate these new ways of working into the culture. This is no mean feat and should not simply be expected, it must be worked at, nurtured and cared for.

Culture is the glue that either keeps us doing things well or keeps us doing things poorly.

Professor Ethan Bernstein, Harvard Business School

What does a digital culture even look like?

Specifying precisely what a digital culture looks like is not a simple thing we can do but the clever people at Capgemini have put forward critical attributes that organisations should push for to transform the culture into a catalyst for Digital Transformation.

A digital culture can be defined by 7 factors:

  • Digital-First Mindset – Encourage staff to always look for a digital solution first when developing a new solution/process, rather than creating processes and solutions with a historical mindset working with the same tools they’ve always used.
  • Customer Centricity – Focus all your efforts to answer the question “How does what I do make the experience better for my customers?”, this technique is crucial to prioritising the work and truly adding value. Bear in mind that your “customer” is not always the same, for IT it might be staff, for HR it might be new recruits.
  • Collaborative working – Foster collaboration between colleagues to break down silos and encourage the fluid sharing of data. Bringing a diverse group of people into a project will always create a better, more rounded product.
  • Open culture – You must be open to working with external partners – build connections with third-party venders, start-ups or customers.
  • Data-based decision making – The answer is in the numbers – use data and analytics to guide your business decision and be sure to build data capture into all your products to create a cohesive cycle.
  • Agility and Flexibility – Your organisation needs to be able to adapt to changing demands and technologies and make decisions with speed and fluidity.
  • Innovation – Encourage behaviours that support risk taking, disruptive thinking, and the exploration of new ideas.

So, how do you go about implementing a digital culture?

It’s not easy and it’s going to take a while, that’s the first thing to accept. Culture does not change overnight, and you must adapt your strategies constantly. You may find that what worked one week does not work the next so you yourself must be flexible in your approaches.

Around your organisations you will have people who are Change Makers, these can be people who have been around since the dark ages or they can be newbies that simply personify the culture; at World Vision UK we say they bleed orange. It is these people that must be engaged with to mould the culture into one that’s conducive to Digital Transformation.

It takes a lot to change a culture, but these are my best recommendations:

  • Set a clear vision: know what the end state looks like and strive for this glorious end.
  • Lead by example: create a group of people that embody the digital culture and lead the rest of the workforce in best practices, with proof that the new ways of working, well… work!
  • The Change Makers: include your change makers in this group, and don’t underestimate their worth.
  • Pincer movement: culture change happens at the highest level and at the grass roots so it’s imperative you work top-down and bottom-up, the gulf between leadership plans and staff’s working practices must be bridged and the gap must be closed.
  • Invest in digital skills: this training challenge will be covered in more detail in another post but upskilling your staff is as vital as onboarding new talent.
  • KPIs: Design new digital KPIs that focus more on behaviours rather than successes and failures.

I’d encourage networking with the organisations around you, everyone is currently tackling these issues and there’s no shame in stealing initiatives that have worked elsewhere. However, knowing your organisation is critical, every organisation is different and the initiatives you choose to adopt must work for your organisation.

Having a strategy is important, it’s what sets your vision and guides your plans yet at the end of it all culture will win out. Strategy is the Weetabix of corporate life: incredibly good for you, and exceedingly popular… But also, rather dull and will be eaten for breakfast.

If you’d like to get in contact or leave feedback please feel free to use the comments section below or you can email me.