There’s an inextricable link between company culture and successful digital transformation

Matt Taylor Profile picture for user Matt Taylor January 4, 2021
Matt Taylor, Global VP for GTM Operations at ServiceNow, explains how companies will excel in 2021 if they understand that you can’t have digital success without thinking about company culture too.

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If there are two things that have been highlighted by 2020's unusual and dramatic events, it's the importance of business culture and digital transformation.

Businesses have either thrived or struggled depending on their ability to adapt to new ways of working and their capacity for supporting and motivating their staff throughout an incredibly challenging period.

Yet although much has been said about both culture and digital transformation, I'm interested in looking at how the two are in fact inextricably linked.

We must remember that culture is not just about people, and digital transformation is not just about technology. It's not enough to buy tools and hope that they will revolutionise your operations, just as it's not enough to implement a positive and supportive company culture and assume that makes up for poor processes.

Those businesses that don't take the time to address this symbiosis will risk falling behind.

Agility is crucial

The key characteristic that sits at the intersection of culture and digital transformation is agility. Being an agile business is not purely about buying in the right technology, nor is it just about building a culture of innovation and excellence. Agility is truly achieved when both of these aspects are working together harmoniously.

However, this agility piece is what is still lacking for many businesses and where they need the most support.

What this last year has really brought into sharp focus is that moving towards flexibility and embracing remote technologies is no longer enough. Businesses that hang on to legacy, largely offline processes are too slow and too siloed in today's environment, where speed, resiliency and agility are needed on a continuous basis. 

Many businesses have found they are not far enough into their digital transformation journeys to deliver the agility that is needed to face the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis. They will fall behind, and quickly,

This claim is reinforced by data from ServiceNow's Work Survey, released in October. The global study into the impact of COVID-19 on innovation, business and the future of work found that 91% of European executives say their company still has offline workflows, including document approvals (51%), IT workflows such as security incident reports (45%), and technology support requests or processing (42%).

Progress has been made, but months into working from home, 60% of executives and 59% of employees across Europe say their companies do not have a fully integrated system to manage digital workflows.

This is why the combination of the right culture and the right tools is so important. Overcoming this challenge and converting legacy systems into truly agile practices is not simply a question of buying tools.

Indeed, a McKinsey study of global executives from 2017 showed that ‘cultural and behavioural challenges' were cited as the biggest barriers to true digital effectiveness. The same survey also found that there was a clear correlation between the businesses displaying a weak digital culture and a negative economic performance.

The link between culture and digital transformation

The businesses who are leading the way in successfully moving away from slow and siloed processes are those whose culture is fully attuned to embracing and affecting digital change. Ocado, for example, has outperformed its rivals in retail in 2020 by further evolving its digital capabilities, and ServiceNow customers such as IKEA and Unilever have managed to transition rapidly to new ways of working without skipping a beat.

Here are some of the key characteristics exhibited by businesses such as these:

  • Widespread buy-in across the C-suite. The CEO, CHRO, CFO, COO and others in the executive leadership team should be as invested as the CIO is in their understanding of, and focus on, digitisation. If all of these individuals are convinced of and vocal about the benefits, their teams will be too.
  • Company-wide championing of digital transformation. Communication of the benefits and outcomes of making change, and clear explanations of how it will be rolled out are essential in achieving company-wide buy-in and adoption.
  • Collaboration. To be successful, digital transformation must be a team effort. It's about the cross-functional successes that can be enjoyed and celebrated, not the ideas and projects of a single leader or one specific department.
  • Customer and employee centricity. It's vital to constantly ask questions about what benefits the customer and the employee and what would be required to delight them both even further.

Adopting a positive, accepting attitude towards digital change is therefore as important as implementing the digital practices themselves. At ServiceNow, we work hard with our customers to embed not only the tools and systems that will help them perform with agility and resilience, but also the cultural infrastructure that will allow these tools to deliver maximum returns.

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