Building a strong digital culture

How to rally employees behind digital transformation


Research shows that most digital transformation initiatives fail to meet core objectives. One of the biggest reasons, according to a McKinsey study, is leaders fail to communicate the changes effectively to employees and fail to build a digital culture that aligns with success.

That won’t come as a big surprise to forward-looking CIOs. One major goal of digital transformation, after all, is to create superior employee experiences that unlock productivity and free up employees to focus on higher-level tasks.

When Standard Chartered Bank redesigned its HR processes, project leaders first gathered input from the bank’s 86,000 employees. Then they developed employee personas and conducted usability studies to guide the project.

Here’s how organizations can enlist employees to improve the odds that any digital transformation initiative can succeed.

Start with questions, not answers

Many corporate IT initiatives skip what seems like an obvious step—asking employees what they want before projects are scoped and budgets and timelines approved.

When ServiceNow set out to build a mobile app to help employees with common tasks, it began by asking employee focus groups about pain points that an app might solve. Top requests included making it easier to find and reserve conference rooms and connecting with HR staff—neither of which had been top priorities for the app development team.

HR and IT both need seats at the table. Nobody understands employee needs and the impact of workplace changes better than your HR team. They can help IT staff provide digital experiences that meet employee needs.

Get your story straight

One of the key elements of successful organizational change is to create and share a compelling change story. A change story should help employees understand the context for transformational change, where the organization is going, and why the change is necessary.

Who should tell that story? Executives should identify internal champions of a project—representing different areas of the business—and deputize them to spread the word. One basic strategy is to lead regular calls and meetings where champions can share the story with employees, answer questions, and encourage workers to return to their departments as advocates.

Learning drives digital culture

Re-skilling and upskilling your employees is another key element of building a strong digital culture.

As process automation and machine intelligence increasingly impact job roles, corporate learning and training platforms will play a bigger role in shaping digital cultures that embrace change. More than 60% of U.S. corporate executives say they will need to retrain or replace at least a quarter of their current workers over the next five years due to automation, according to a 2018 McKinsey study.

At PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), more than 1,000 employees recently joined the company’s Digital Accelerator program, designed to help “upskill” the company’s 50,000-plus U.S. workforce. Similarly, AT&T has made a $1 billion investment in digital skills training for half its 280,000 employees.

These are important strategic investments, not just Band-Aids to navigate a talent shortage. “Employees won’t just go home one night and step into new roles in the morning,” writes ServiceNow CIO Chris Bedi. “You can’t change a culture by writing code. That’s why companies need to get started on human transformation today.”