It’s All About the Culture

By Ashok Iyengar

The race to digital transformation

Whether it is four pillars or four stages or seven dimensions, the race to digital transformation is on. We know some countries, societies, and companies are doing better in that regard than others. What advantages do the early adopters have over others? Some are still thinking about it and not yet ready to embrace this digital transformation. Why is that? It cannot be technology, because everyone has access to the same technology and resources these days. Some might claim it is lack of money and/or skills. Even that is not a valid reason because we see some of the world’s largest corporations and developed countries waiting to get off the blocks. Then there are others who have taken the first couple of steps but are held back by one too many processes. I say, it has to do with culture!

People + Culture

Society 5.0, Japan’s big societal transformation plan, offers a clue. Society 5.0 talks about breaking down walls—the wall of government, wall of the legal system, wall of technologies, wall of human resources. It states the fifth wall as the most consequential. And that is the wall of social acceptance, where the final stakeholders are the population.

A large industrial materials company embarked on a cloud adoption project. The C-level executives were eager and excited to jump on the digital transformation train. They said and did the right things. Squads were created to look into and adopt three new areas—DevOps, Service Reliability Engineering, and Digital Architecture. For their part, management allocated time, money, and resources. IT personnel were trained in the new technologies and the IT department had all the latest software products they needed. Yet, 10 months into the journey, the transformation pace was slow. Developers still wrote code in isolation and were moving it to the test environment for the testers to finish testing. Many manual checks are still performed before releasing a new version of their software. Management did not see the big change in velocity. If there was one thing I could point to, it would have to be the organization’s culture.

We know, digital transformation is a journey. It has multiple connected intermediary goals that strive towards continuous optimization across processes, divisions, and the business ecosystem. But nowhere in that long definition is culture mentioned. Every individual in the organization has to be empowered and be a willing participant in this transformation. It is truly a mindset. If the company or country culture does not accommodate or embrace that change, the individuals will not be inclined to believe in it either.

Culture + Organization

Let’s look at a graphic. The figure below shows the seven dimensions I alluded to earlier. The Culture + Organization dimension is explained here.

Culture + Organization

Ignoring the culture dimension will derail any digital transformation envisioned by organizations and society. I admit, it is easier said than done. More importantly, there has to be a view of failure. Small failures should be viewed as learning experiences. Organizations that provide such a culture can help teams move to larger and more ambitious experiments with potentially larger payoffs. But we often see that certain cultures only prefer to celebrate success. Even small failures are frowned upon. People often fear for their jobs. This, in turn, forces people to not be transparent. They start to mask or hide their missteps. That is not a recipe for success when trying to adopt a new paradigm

Measuring change

The other six dimensions can be quantified and measured. But how does one measure culture or the degree of change in culture? Since there isn’t an easy answer, it often gets overlooked. And therein lies the problem. Trying to find out whose code change adversely affected last night’s deployment indicates that the culture has not changed. In that scenario, the emphasis should be on quickly fixing the issue and deploying a new version of the release.

Change is never easy. Enterprises, and especially the people, that embrace change will move forward more rapidly with the cloud strategy that they adopt. Ultimately, it is the culture change that will pave the way for digital transformation.

I would like to know what others have experienced.

Here’s another reference, a podcast nonetheless, on the same topic: “Transforming your culture for digital success

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