Sending the right message gets people to think digital

22nd February 2017
Sometimes it is the little things that signal to employees that a momentous change is taking place – and it can be as seemingly insignificant as changing the dress code.

In San Francisco and Sydney, IT workers go to work in T-shirts and trainers without a second thought but, in the Bangalore head office of consulting company Infosys, things were more “stitched up”.

The work uniform there was still the shirt-and-tie until chief executive officer Vishal Sikka flagged a culture change in 2015 by allowing casual attire. 
The previous policy fined employees if they turned up to work on certain days without a tie.

Unusually for companies in India, Infosys now allows workers to access social media at work, their ideas are harvested by crowd-sourcing and they have team lunches.

Infosys has been undergoing a process of digital transformation, to improve and automate its services and to encourage innovation. The idea is that if you free up the wardrobe and the workplace, you can also open minds.

However, this is obviously just an early step in the process of getting people to “think digital”. It is changing the surface appearance to recognise the deeper transformation that is taking place in people’s minds and behaviours.

So, what does a digital culture look like? MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte surveyed nearly 4,000 executives worldwide in 2015 and discovered that mature digital organisations have an expanded appetite for risk, rapid experimentation, heavy investment in talent, and they recruit and develop leaders who excel at “soft” skills.
This means that, like the old Facebook mantra, they encourage people to “move fast and break things”, they have a sophisticated recruitment process to get the best people and they offer benefits and quality working environments to retain the kind of people who can get a good job anywhere.

It makes sense for companies like these to also have a flat management structure that values technical ability and experience and have managers who understand they are there to enable and coach, rather than just to direct.
The digital organisation is coming to all of us and yet many leaders appear to be closing their eyes and hoping for the best.

Nearly 90 per cent of the MIT study’s respondents say their industries will be disrupted by digital trends to a great or moderate extent, but only 44 per cent say their organisations are adequately preparing for the disruptions to come.

US-based multinational GE, however, has “taken the bull by the horns”, so to speak. It was fighting 120 years of company history when it recognised that the perfectionistic thinking that made GE a great producer of aircraft engines was actually a stumbling block to innovation.

Famous for its heavy machinery, GE is also the world’s 14th-largest software provider. While precision engineering stops aircraft falling from the sky, it is not the right approach to software development. 
Software teams have to move fast, commit to minimally viable products and get them to market in time. They also have to allow outsiders in, releasing code on a frequent basis so that it can be continually improved.

To enable this kind of approach, GE has adopted a new technique called “FastWorks” -  a framework for entrepreneurs to develop new products that came out of “Agile” software development.

FastWorks encourages speed and agility, taking smart risks and pivoting quickly when ideas don’t pan out. Each business unit has been turned into a mini venture operation with a portfolio of products. Some of those products lines were pre-existing, but some could be regarded as outlandish and “bets on the future”. 
It is often said that culture is the hardest part of an organisation to change, putting into the shade other challenges such as shifting technology, recruiting the right people, strategy and funding the right products.

Therefore, digital transformation cannot rest with the Chief Information Officer – it should be everyone’s job to get with the program.
Leaders might install foosball tables and funky furniture to signal the kind of culture changes they want, but they must also become more visible and model the behaviours they expect.
This means sweeping away the “us and them” barriers between layers of management, breaking down silos and getting people to work across disciplines (legal with sales, perhaps), and seeking to draw their talented employees into conversations.  
A high profile appointment can also send a strong message. If having the most beautifully designed products is to be your selling point, empower the designers, as Apple did when it appointed head designer Jony Ive to its executive team.
In Australia, it was a title and role change for former REA Group CIO, Nigel Dalton, who is now Chief Inventor of the real estate advertising company.

It also needs to count at the hip pocket.  People need to have their remuneration dependent on their ability to implement the changes – through their key performance indicators.
Astute staff appointments and clever staff culture additions to boost morale can both make a huge difference when it comes to getting employees and senior management “on board” and working together to create something great. Transformation on several levels is the key to future success for all.

Follow us on
Related Articles