How Culture Affects Digital Transformation

The company I currently work for is going Digital! It’s exciting to see that the seed I planted not long ago is starting to show its first delicate blooms. As I wrote in an earlier blog, “How to Sell Digital Transformation to Your Boss,” there are two preferable things for a DX evangelist in a company to do:

  1. Plant seeds in the heads of the board/executives
  2. Plant seeds in the heads of the managers and employees

This was my process:

I talked to both groups and explained to them what they can expect from digitalization, focusing on what digital can do for us. The first subtle results already started to appear in that digitalization started to be pushed from two groups: the CEO and the mid-management. Both sides have a shared understanding about digitalization, which supports the type of clear communication that is needed for real institutional change. I initiated talks about digitalization in face-to-face meetings with executives, senior and mid-management, as well as in teams.

A few days ago, we had a digitalization meeting with 16 managers from our company. We were working on two questions:

  1. Where do we stand today regarding digitalization?
  2. How digital do we want to be five years from now?

The first question was easy to answer. We collected the complaints from everyone regarding our processes and how we leverage of the tools we currently have at hand. Many SMBs share the same pain.

Technology of the future

The interesting part was the second question. I expected that this would all be about imagination and vision for the future—almost like science fiction. Personally, I love science fiction from the 1950s. The unthinkable was thought. They expected flying cars to be a common thing in the year 2000.

Back to our meeting. I dropped a few buzzwords to start a discussion:

  • 3D Printing
  • Mobile
  • Digital Workflows
  • DCX (Digital Customer Experience)
  • etc.

All issues we already had on our minds were very present in the discussion—digital business processes, workflows, and improved usage of the ECM and ERP systems. When it came to the unknown, the real visionary thoughts, the team was reluctant to express their opinions.

Additive Manufacturing brings totally new shapes and require an new design approach

Additive manufacturing, 3D printing, and generative design are so unknown to most of the team that the imagination of what this can do for us was lacking. Therefore, it is so important to visit conferences to network with peers in your industry and understand what technologies are knocking at the door. I personally divide digital transformation into two categories:

  1. Digitalization that is already available, like digital workflows, enterprise content management systems (ECM), CRM, and many more technologies that are already available, though probably not fully leveraged today.
  2. Technology that is not part of our daily business—technology that is really new to us. Additive manufacturing, generative design…to name only two examples…is technology that most people don’t know or understand.

The real new technology is what we have to look at. We need to understand what the impact of this technology will be in the future. What can this technology can do for us? How can we leverage this technology in the future? How do we prepare to leverage this technology?

Working in the future

Another aspect of digital transformation is the way we’re going to work in the future. These aspects were also discussed among our team, and to me this was the most interesting and most surprising part of the discussion.

  • Do we still work from 9 to 5 five years from now?
  • Will we still use the time clock?
  • What does presence in the office mean, after all?
  • Isn’t it more important to be productive and motivated, rather than waiting for 5PM to arrive without being productive at all?
Waiting for 5pm to come…

Isn’t it more important to be productive and motivated, rather than waiting for 5PM
to arrive without being productive at all?

This was an interesting discussion! And since I had thought for quite a while about the future of what work will be like, I was convinced that the managers and group managers would be very open to these questions. To my surprise, I found that the opposite was true. 13 out of 16 found a huge amount of reasons why we should keep using the existing system! They weren’t able to imagine anything other than working 9 to 5.

  • Thinking of not using a time clock brought a lot of uncertainty to them. They thought that this would eventually lead to exploitation of their workforce. They would end up working more hours than they do today.
  • Not having a strict division between working hours and spare time scared them.

Only a few had a different view:

  • New models of trusted working hours would give them the freedom to do private things during the day when necessary and keep up with the work during evening hours.
  • Being responsible for their work will bring confidence.
  • It sure doesn’t make sense to stare at your screen while doing nothing but waiting for 5 PM to come around. Having other things on your mind makes it very difficult to concentrate.

Digitalization will allow new ways to work. Taking your Microsoft Surface with you anytime, anyplace will allow you to do your work wherever you like. Using cloud technologies will give you access to the necessary data everywhere you are. If you don’t have papers to rely on anymore, your data in the cloud will be complete. No reason to go desk and look for papers.

Corporate Culture / Working Culture

The new way of working—the new freedom—requires personal responsibility, but corporate culture of many SMBs these days does not encourage this. Employees are expected to follow orders implicitly. They are expected to obey. If you look at a company that has existed for more than 50 years, don’t be surprised that the corporate culture has prevailed.

Digital transformation requires personal responsibility of employees

Digital transformation requires new work models. Digital transformation requires personal responsibility of employees. It requires a new corporate culture that is based on trust and freedom, where employees will naturally do their best.

Does this sound silly to you? Do you think employees cannot do their best without cracking the whip? If we look at companies like Google, Microsoft, Apple, and others, we find that they already use these new methods of working. Some of these companies don’t have the heritage of command and obey, of authoritarian leadership. They dared something else and were successful.

To change the way, we work today requires a totally new way thinking by top management. Executives have to understand that generation X and millennials will not accept these old-fashioned ways of working. They expect freedom, responsibility, and trust.

The purpose of this blog is to start a discussion. Please leave your comments, whether you agree or if you disagree. I hope to hear from you!


Picture Uhrenindustriemuseum Villingen-Schwenningen

About Alexander

Alexander Buschek is passionate about Digital Transformation and the opportunities it gives businesses—especially MSEs. He is convinced that every business has to embrace Digital Transformation in one way or another in order to survive. The sooner a business begins its Digital Transformation, the better. Alexander was the CIO / CDO of Braunschweiger Flammenfilter and CIO of Cherry GmbH. Prior to that he was an entrepreneur, consulting MSEs about IT strategies, providing external project management, and overseeing various IT projects (e.g. ERP and CAD implementation and migration). Working with many MSEs gave him a deep understanding of this market. Alexander is now Senior Director, Analyst (MSE) at Gartner.