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Five digital culture characteristics every business needs to drive

Tony Colon Profile picture for user tcolon February 27, 2018
Just implementing technology is rarely enough to make a real digital transformation; you need to look at implementing new cultural and organizational norms, says Salesforce's Tony Colon.

Tony Colon Salesforce
Tony Colon

Over the years, we've seen organizations race to success in our new digital world. In that race, some spin out — and some crash. I've looked for patterns, and I've found that it’s the cultural, rather than technological, characteristics that help companies thrive in a digital transformation and execution of digital strategies.

For old-guard companies just embarking on a digital journey, they're looking for the “secret sauce” to success in a new era, and this usually involves new technologies. But just implementing technology is rarely enough to make a real digital transformation. These companies also need to look at implementing new cultures and organizational norms to break down silos and boost collaboration.

Often, this requires revisiting or even replacing their operating models to blur the lines between development, operations security, and business teams, and I've worked closely with many companies looking to identify the characteristics that actively drive new, agile decision-making that helps leverage technology effectively.

One media company we've worked with really embodies these characteristics, and its culture has been a tremendous boost to its success as a company on every level. I'll call the company Noodle here, and will use it as an example that captures the way truly digital companies work to succeed.

Such organizations need to be collaborative, agile and responsive, open, innovative, and — most importantly — customer-obsessed. Their attitude is, 'To stay on everyone's home screen, everyone here has to be pulling together'.

Here's how it works in practice.

(1) Collaborative (Non-Siloed): People work in connected, cross-functional teams that are empowered to execute.

  • Noodle has dissolved barriers between its functional business and technology groups to increase speed and drive higher quality. It uses technologies like Salesforce Chatter and the mobile platform to build alignment across the organization, stay connected, and share knowledge and best practices across the entire workforce.

(2) Agile and Responsive: Beyond just using Agile methodologies, people create value when they quickly learn and adapt to changes in strategy, processes, structure, and technology.

  • Noodle works in autonomous teams with decision rights over their respective domains so every group can make the decisions needed to impact the customer experience. The company prioritizes working in an agile way over sticking to any type of specific agile practice or school of thought.

(3) Open and Transparent: People feel safe to candidly share ideas, and leadership clearly communicates strategy and priorities.

  • Noodle is open about problems and challenges. Surfacing concerns quickly creates the ability to quickly resolve problems. The company uses technology to create transparency: “For us, it’s all about human contact. It's easy to praise colleagues for great work or share problems and opportunities."

(4) Risk-Taking and Innovative: People are comfortable taking and learning from calculated risks that fuel innovation.

  • Noodle is constantly shifting the way it works to create new value. The company rapidly experiments with its technology, testing new ideas and innovation with its customers. Failed experiments are looked at as learning opportunities, and the learning is quickly applied.

(5) Customer-Obsessed: People’s mindsets and efforts are centered around creating customer value.

It's easy to see how each of these characteristics enhances the digital capabilities of an organization. New ways of working require people to behave differently to ensure they are in sync with the nonhuman changes happening across the organization. Digitally native companies definitely have the advantage here; born into a digital world, they can stand up their culture and operations to work with technology from the start, allowing more effective information transit and better communications cross-company.

Does that leave older, more rigid and established companies out of the running for digital success? Absolutely not. Leaders willing to give digital transformation the intentional leadership and focus it needs can build these cultural capabilities and avoid disruption or stalling the business.

And make no mistake - this behavior modelling comes from the top and must be fostered at every level of the organization until the new and positive cultural characteristics take root. Because at the end of the day, culture is about the way people behave on a day-to-day basis. Holding each other accountable to commitments, speaking up openly and honestly when people have concerns, and encouraging and learning from taking calculated risks are behaviors critical for building a digital culture.

As these new ways of working take hold, the ability to meet customer demands and expectations in this digital world increases — and businesses looking to transform and grow can ultimately thrive and win.

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