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ca. 10 min Lesedauer

Why Digital Transformation is Cultural Change. 10 assertions from reality.

We’ve been encountering many clients who feel a deep sense of insecurity when facing Digital Transformation (DT). Some are literally paralyzed, and some are already in trouble because they thought introducing a new method like Design Thinking or using Social Media will make them really digital. They missed the point. The reality is far more complex.

Here are our 10 theses out of the reality we encounter on a day-to-day basis.

1. Digital transformation (DT) is cultural change
DT doesn’t mean just introducing a new method (e.g. SCRUM or Design Thinking), using new tools (“yay, we have an intranet now!”) or starting Social Media (“do you wanna be our fan?”!). DT means a change of mindset. Of a WHOLE COMPANY’S MINDSET.
Just to give you somekeywords: Faster and way more flexible decision-taking, decentralized structures, the courage needed for trial and error, and so on.

2. DT has to become priority no 1
It isn’t a side project run by the online marketing manager. And by the way: hiring a young skilled person to drive digital change in a company doesn’t count. This situation only leads to 2 inevitable results: 1. The young and enthusiastic person will adapt to the existing thought patterns, blend in and sink. Or 2. He or she will leave the company within a short time. What happens to the one fresh apple that you put in with the already rotten ones? The rotten ones don’t revitalize. The fresh ones starts going moldy. Surprisingly, we encounter this situation a lot.

3. DT challenges companies to work on their vision, on their reason for existing
How do we meet the needs and possibilities of a digital world with our products, with our services? That’s THE question companies should start with. And then start working on it. Doing a fancy new website and Social Media is not digital change. It’s one of the results.

4. Many companies only will be able to jump if they manage to involve lateral thinkers, disruptive factors and innovators from outside.
With a mindset rehearsed for many years and decades, a real change like Digital Transformation is barely possible. This depends on the spirit that already floats in the company.

5. DT hast to be driven by the boss
The changes that come with Digital Transformation are deeply engaged with the business model of every company. Online marketing is only one part of it and not even the most important one. Therefore it is unavoidable, that DT is the number one priority in a company, driven by the boss.

6. DT can’t be driven by the boss only
I’ve worked with more than one managing director of medium-sized companies with a couple of hundred employees, who wanted to make the company very modern and digital overnight. And forgot to take the employees with him or her. We are talking about mind shift here. And that never happens in a second. And above all: it doesn’t succeed without a team that’s pushing it and backing the boss’s vision. I recommend putting a team together, from all departments of the company. These digital navigators should be positive, open-minded, fond of digital topics, experts in their respective realm and well trusted by others. They can build the digital task force, support the management and help anchoring digital change within the company on a broader base.

7. DT leads to cultural change
Many are frightened by the changes that come with Digital Transformation. That’s part of human nature: the fear of change stops us pushing ourselves. We want to keep what we know. At the beginning of a process I often experience a strong aversion, which dissolves step by step. People’s minds change when they are actually confronted with the reality, that you usually cut into digestible pieces, and eventually they don’t see change as threatening anymore.

8. DT needs time and is no fast break-even business
This is the reason why it is so important to start quickly, make mistakes and learn. I would like to share the example of Matthias Dornbracht, one of the managing directors of Dornbracht. The company is the world leading producer of design fittings for kitchens and bathrooms. In 2007 he put together a multifunctional team of employees from different departments in the company. Additionally he hired around 20 external partners to contribute to the innovation process. He gave them a new space on the company grounds and most importantly: he imposed no limits to time and budget. He gave them the benefit of creativity. It took years. And Dornbracht stood the risk. At the end, he brought the software to bathrooms and kitchens in a way that was truly innovative. The result was a couple of innovations, just to name an example: they invented a tap that with a click could fill the pot in the sink let’s say with 650 ml of water at 65 degrees Celsius. Neat, huh?

9. DT changes communication behavior: faster and more direct
This is swamping people. Just some weeks ago the managing director of the EMEA organization of an American concern refused to invest time in their own Facebook profile for his regions because he “didn’t use Facebook himself, so why should our customers?”. I was completely fuddled by this thinking. He was successfully neglecting the fact that customers of his region were already addressing their discontent and problems directly on the company’s American Facebook page. The e-mail communication that lasted days and in which various managers of the company discussed how to respond to this post is not the appropriate reaction to social media communication these days. Meanwhile, the angry customer had posted once again.

10. DT changes the requirements for employees and managers
Today, we see requirements shift. New talents, behaviors and particularly new mindsets are becoming key: Being courageous and enjoying trying out new ideas (sounds cool but is actually quite stressful); taking advantage of freedom – using and shaping it (for many people it’s not that easy. Again, the fear of change…); and liking working in changing decentralized structures. Dieter Zetsche announced some weeks ago that he will organize around 20 percent of his staff into a swarm organization. Within 1 year. The Digital Transformation will change our business world in a way that many companies can’t imagine. Better start now. And don’t be afraid.
This article has been published by Stefanie Dörflinger on Linked In, November 2016 but has still not lost relevance.

Stefanie Dörflinger

… beschäftigt sich momentan vor allem mit der (Aus-)wirkung von Sprache & Kommunikation auf Motivation & Identifikation sowie mit Unternehmenskulturen.