New digital workflows require a profound cultural change, driven by the people who live the culture. "Digital transformation is about talent, not technology," Harvard Business Review emphasises.² However, this awareness is not yet evident in many German companies, as a recent management study shows. Only about five percent of the surveyed managers are fully aware of their responsibility to actively involve employees in change.³
Anyone who embarks on the adventure of cultural change should be aware: Culture happens between the collective and the individual and includes dimensions such as language, behaviour, communication and iconography. By taking this into account and integrating these levels into the various process stages, many pitfalls and obstacles can be avoided on the way to cultural change. And another piece of good news: with pre-defined parameters, change becomes measurable, and companies receive a compass to guide them in the right direction.
Create a common understanding
Language is an essential element of culture. Communication is effective only if people speak the same language and mean the same things. This may sound mundane, but in practice we find time and again that very different "language realities" prevail in different departments, or even within departments. Especially buzzwords such as agility, new work or digital transformation are often interpreted in different ways. "Digital transformation", for example, is often associated with the implementation of technologies such as blockchain, AI or digital tools. Yet it is primarily about using new structures and processes to establish a culture that meets the requirements of a complex, digitalised business world.
At the beginning of every change process, a common vocabulary should be established in the team: for what it is you intend to do, for the value system and for the goals you are pursuing with the change process. This will prevent any confusion and create the necessary commitment and sense of community required to sustain the transformation process. A common language basis is essential if the change process is to be measured using a change monitor.
Develop a networking culture
Culture is reflected in people's interaction and communication. And companies understand that when it comes to new working methods, networking and collaboration are essential. But collaborative tools alone do not make a networking environment. We often find situations in which employees use new digital communication tools, but are hopelessly overwhelmed by existing hierarchical process structures and feedback loops. In addition to circular files and cascading emails, people are now slacking, teaming and zooming, but without the appropriate networking. Interactive boards such as Trello or the digital tools mentioned above can only be used efficiently when there is transparency about roles, interfaces and workflows and processes are interlinked. In many companies, the degree of digital networking and transparency is often not compatible with the company's data protection regulations. Modern working methods are thus often blocked from the start.
Online tool Miro is an “infinite” whiteboard. Teams can use it to collaborate in real time as well as asynchronously. Virtual whiteboards like Miro enable agile workflows and support visualisation.
"Culture" comes from "cultivate"
Culture change does not happen overnight. Culture is based on values and attitudes that have grown over years, determine people's behaviour and thinking and thus also influence how the company operates. To impose a cultural change from above would mean spreading seeds on asphalt and expecting a blooming meadow to emerge. Like a good gardener, the company must prepare the soil and create ideal conditions for growth. This happens when employees are involved in change processes whose purpose and approach they understand and which they can actively shape. This is how to plant the seeds for the new culture - growth must come from within. New work culture to a certain degree means a culture of trust, in which the management has to give up control. Just as the gardener can create ideal conditions, but never completely control nature, leadership can provide impulses and prescribe processes, but must also allow space for something new to emerge. Otherwise, change is nipped in the bud, or the result is a dead-cultivated gravel garden.
Re-think the individual
Some industrial companies have an actual tribal culture. With sovereigns and sovereignties, strict rites and behaviours that can be defining for the identity of the company: "That's how we've always done it." But how is a person embedded in a secure structure with fixed tasks supposed to develop into an autonomous problem solver? Creating a new reality also requires a realistic understanding of human nature: what can I demand of my employee? First of all, it is important to communicate: There is nothing bad about the old and nothing scary about the new. Build on the familiar instead of stirring up fear with disruption. Therefore, in the analysis of tasks and processes, we always ask what is important to people in their project work. Beyond their mere function, it is important to perceive people's personalities and preferences, for example through personality tests such as 16personalities or DISG profiles (read more in our article "Act before It Hurts").
It is amazing to watch people thrive when they feel seen and get the opportunity to rediscover themselves to a degree. Self-efficacy coupled with a sense of purpose makes people enjoy their work. Companies also benefit because motivated employees are more productive and loyal, which in turn leads to social resilience. Within a new culture, certain talents or personalities will also find entirely new positions for themselves: Rebels or dissenters who in the old system might have been sand in the gearbox may contribute to promoting the new culture in the company.
Accomplish the role rather than occupy the position
In the work culture of the industrial age, the human being was a small wheel in the machine whose performance could be measured by the numbers of products produced or sold. The age of service, however, puts people at the centre - or more precisely, the customer. For companies to be able to react as flexibly to customers' needs as expected, employees have to take responsibility for complex tasks and develop problem-solving skills - they no longer simply fill a position, but accomplish a role.
Job descriptions refer to mere functional processes, whereas roles reflect responsibilities and results. Unfortunately, roles in the new digital work structure are often distributed arbitrarily and do not correspond to the competences required of the employee. The youngest in the team has an Instagram profile, so they do social media. Another staff member is good at writing texts, so they take care of content management. Awareness of the new role and integration into the general workflow is not communicated, which in turn leads to endless coordination and feedback loops.
First of all, it is fundamental to examine positions in detail and to create comprehensive role profiles. The social media manager's task is not simply to post nice pictures, there are also editorial responsibilities carried out in close collaboration with content management and media editors, for example. Successful dialogue with customers is not least important. The social media manager must therefore not only have technical skills, but above all empathy in order to completely fulfil the role.
Not only the role, but its integration into a functioning workflow with clearly defined interfaces is crucial. We deliberately use the term "workflows" because the term "processes" is too narrow for the collaborative way of working we are aiming for. Roles are clearly defined, but transitions can be seamless and shaped individually from one task to the next.
Measuring cultural change: the change monitor
"Culture progress" can be measured using a change monitor. For this purpose, managers and project teams will collectively define factors that they consider crucial for the change and collaboration process, and that will make change tangible for everyone involved. Important: It is not about measuring figures or performance, but about measuring indicators relevant for change.
It is crucial to define these parameters in the collective. Not only does it indicate the scope of action and the responsibilities of those involved, but agreeing on a common set of criteria creates a unifying vision of the nature and quality of the ongoing change process. Employees are involved in defining the change and can relate to it.
The status of the development is recorded and discussed in regular joint sessions. Taking the starting point and the target image into view, change becomes apparent, and it also becomes clear which areas require further action and measures. This makes change manageable and predictable even in times of ultimate "loss of control".
The playbook – cultural playground
A common understanding about the new culture and its principles is documented in the playbook. "Playbook" because it is not a rigid manifesto to capture the achievements of the new culture, but rather defines the pitch on which the new culture is happening. Of course, it captures role profiles, interfaces, workflows, behaviour and communication principles: How do we conduct efficient and target-oriented meetings? Who is responsible and competent, and what are the appropriate communication channels? Where do we set up control mechanisms? What is our internal knowledge and information culture - beyond everyday business? Which digital and real spaces do we use to collaborate?
The playbook is living inspiration for a new culture - both for existing and new employees. We often experience playbooks proudly being passed around the company by the employees of one department, thus spreading the spark to other areas of the company. After all, this is how change works: it starts from a seed whose energy spills over to the whole company and finally flourishes into a new culture.
So, what do we learn? Companies need to involve their employees in the change process, change literally has to go to the substance or to the root. And that is a good thing. Because that's how a new, resilient culture emerges, one that keeps nourishing itself instead of succumbing to the first head wind.
Would you like to exchange ideas with us on the subject or do you have a challenge? We are looking forward to your contact: call +49 611 . 238 50 10 or by eMail to kontakt(at)diefirma.de.
¹ Study: The Digital Culture Challenge: Closing the Employee-Leadership Gap (PDF)
² Article: Digital Transformation Is About Talent, Not Technology
³ Study 2020: Change Management: Der Mensch im Mittelpunkt der digitalen Transformation
© iStock.com / Sandra M