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The average lifespan of a top 500 company is shorter than ever. Despite this damning evidence of the inertia of big organisations, we surely must assume it is possible to change company culture.

Arguably there are some organisations that have done it, with Government Digital Services the current poster child for digital transformation. There are many more that have failed.

So, how is it done?

Recently, Econsultancy held another of its digital transformation roundtable discussion events. Culture and content were the two topics for discussion.

Ash Roots, Director of Digital at Direct Line Group, presented some insights into DLG's journey of digital transformation, specifically on engendering a culture for change and innovation. I also spoke to delegates about experiences in their respective companies.

Churn is good

Staff turnover is not necessarily a bad thing. Whilst long-serving staff can have tons of expertise and company knowledge, they can also be the most reluctant to change.

Losing staff with skills obviously hurts, but some pointed to a wider picture…

Will, not skill

This was one of Ash's philosophies at Direct Line Group.

The will to change and to get things done is the most important factor. When recruiting or reviewing, of course skills are going to be important. But arguably more important is whether a team is up for the fight.

Soft skills form part of the same philosophy. Having good communicators, people who are calm under pressure, problem solvers – these are often innate strengths and should be sought out.

Changing rooms

A working environment should attract and inspire employees. It should focus on the customer, too.

Even without a budget, Direct Line Group's digital team used posters and vinyl stickers, to transformed an office and reflect customer personas and team values.

Ash went a step further, too, and moved the team to an adjacent building on site.

nice office

Changing buildings

Digital teams may have to physically separate themselves from the rest of the company. Some felt this tactic doesn’t exactly encourage good communication, however, space to create something different and then present it back to the company as a successful venture is one approach that can be taken, as the digital team at DLG shows.

Prototype not business case

Often the best way to prove the value of a new product or technology is not by creating a business case. By quickly prototyping and then presenting the rough article to stakeholders, one stands a greater chance of proving the value of a product or service that may represent a change from the status quo.

Email can be disruptive

Ash talked about his decision to remove email apps from his phone, to get a healthier approach to communication.

Tools can help in changing culture. DLG has used Yammer to Trello. The important part of using tools is that they encourage working as a team.

The reality of people that don’t fit

It’s a hard thing to say, but successful businesses haven’t transformed their services and culture without taking tough decisions. If people don’t see the vision, they may be better off elsewhere.

Get the CEO involved

Make sure he or she is invited to visit your team regularly. Paul Geddes, CEO at Direct Line Group, offered valuable business insight to the digital team, as well as keeping himself abreast of change. It’s incumbent on you to convince the CEO of new developments in digital and their impact on your market.

Agencies used to offer fresh thinking

Some companies have brought everything in-house. This is an attempt to get rid of the black box of services and allow staff to have operational transparency and to work and iterate quicker.

However, many people I spoke to were sceptical about in-housing. Disciplines such as PPC were considered as good candidates for bringing back into the team, due to the improvement in tools, literature and training. On the other hand, creative agencies, design and build agencies, these were thought of as providers of fresh thinking that can help to change culture.

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No magic bullets here, as you can see, but if you have further suggestions, let us know in the comments. More pay is probably the obvious one I have missed.

Ben Davis

Published 4 July, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Hilton Barbour

I admire the eConsultancy staff on much of their writing but this is jumping the shark. Culture is too critical a business scenario to try condense into observations like change buildings, pay more, churn is good etc.

From personal experience, the biggest question is really "What is the organization's appetite for Change?" coupled with "Does our Culture allow us to change efficiently and effectively or is it an impediment?"

Transformation, digital or otherwise, requires people to do things differently than they have in the past. And people's desire to make that change really comes down to how large is the risk of DOING NOTHING. The vast majority of companies - and cultures - are comfortable with status quo until that becomes untenable.

Folks like PROSCI have shown that cultures (which really is just a term to describe the behaviours of people within a company) can be modified but it has to start with awareness that the status quo is riskier than the new direction. And its certainly requires deeper initiatives than merely moving folks across the road.

almost 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Hilton

Cogent thoughts.

I agree whole heartedly. This is an area that is difficult to write about or even discuss, such are the unique circumstances of every organisation.

However, I do think the minutiae should be tackled. Fact is that, to take the case of situ, there was a person who talked of how it was important for their digital team to get some distance.

I just wanted to highlight some little things that could be gimmicks in one org but of great value in another.

Of course, the notion of changing people, processes and technologies is something that requires serious capability and competency assessment, and isn't exactly a trifle.

almost 2 years ago

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Finn Christo

I have to agree. From my own experience, moving from a traditional business set up to a 'trendy, creative one' doesn't magically transform a culture and in some cases actually hinder its growth and development. Real culture change comes from the people in the room, not which room you put the people in.

almost 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Finn

Yep, I agree. Soft skills and the will to succeed were both identified, unsurprisingly, as darn important.

almost 2 years ago

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Dan

This is a massively sensitive topic. I have identified that the culture in our office needs to change and it is making me hugely unpopular!

The big question is, how do you effect this change if you are below management level? My advise is very, very carefully. I'm in the middle of this now and on reflection, I may have been too blunt in expressing my opinions. You can really hurt people's feelings it seems when you are effectively saying "this is working, it's time to change". I say the truth is the truth, let's get on and deal with it! If your company has no internal review and evaluation structure, this can be very hard to achieve (and I'm only in a small office!).

Hilton's point is really spot on; you have to demonstrate that it is more damaging the bottom line to stay still and that change is the only way forward. That means allowing new ideas, talent and perspectives room to grow. Developing a group into a team is difficult, especially when there's no desire to do so, particularly when those at the top feel threatened by these new ideas of inclusive management and communication. If the leaders don't share your vision and you're sure you are right in your convictions, where do you go from there?

I'd love to hear from anyone who has gone through this and has some advise on how to positively affect change...

almost 2 years ago

Rob Mettler

Rob Mettler, Director of Digital Business at PA Consulting

Nice article and good discussion.

I've spent a lot of time over the last 24 months looking at how organisations can benefit from digital and the overriding barrier to progress for many is mindset and culture. Cracking these is essential for organisations to move forward on their digital journeys, whether its the courage to disrupt their current business models, create new propositions or break current channel models.

If we look at those organisations who have successfully transformed with digital (e.g. John Lewis, Burberry) they all have CEOs who have championed a digital change and then driven it through their organisations. Change may start ground up but to drive the cultural and structural transformation necessary to deliver it means the working on and with the CEO and the leadership teams, building their advocacy and commitment to the necessary change - simple to write, not simple to do!

almost 2 years ago

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Hilton Barbour

Appreciate the feedback, comments and encouragement to my initial points.

Might I recommend this great start to cultural definition and thoughts on how to codify and initiate cultural change.

"The Corporate Culture Survival Guide" by Edgar H. Schein

I found it incredibly useful in my work.

Of course, you could also reach out via LinkedIn.

almost 2 years ago

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