As new technology continues to turn traditional business models upside down, the onus is on executive teams to embrace change while encouraging employees to think and act differently. It means challenging conventional approaches, testing ideas and creating a ‘digital culture’ within an organisation which is attuned to and reflective of changing customer expectations. It’s inevitable that the companies which fail to adapt will struggle to compete effectively.
For large, well-established organisations, deep-rooted changes are required. Julian Payne, Line of Business Director for Solutions at De La Rue, a banknote printer and supplier of identity and product authentication services to governments and multinationals, says: “If you’re a first-generation digital start-up business or technology company, you don’t have to think about digital culture, you just have it. You have an agile development team... and you are open to change.
“Whereas if you’re working in a bigger business or a business with a significant non-digital legacy… you’ve got to think about the DNA of the culture that you want to create... It means thinking about what’s happening in the wider context around everything from hosting, to the cloud and big data analytics.”
Laura Haynes, Chairman of brand consultancy Appetite, explains that digital needs to be part of the core business: “People think about digital as being something outside their regular business issues, but it is time to think differently and recognise that the first way to reap the benefits of a digital culture is to break down silos and integrate digital thinking and processes throughout the business.
"Sure, there will be parts of digital that may need new technical expertise, but there is the opportunity to explore the potential to improve processes and communications, but this means embracing digital."
It’s about connecting established practices with the new and reaching a balance which allows digital to enhance or adapt the traditional offering. Bal Samra, BBC Commercial Director and Managing Director of BBC Television, who is leading major digital projects such as BBC3 Online, the iPlayer and BBC Store, comments: “Our values at the BBC are always going to be the same… but we are in a different world – it feels like everything is speeding up... You need to create a culture in your organisation to evolve from the old to the new.”
Executives on point
Senior executives in an organisation need to take the lead on digital. Bal says: “The CEO has to set the pace of the vision... So that means constantly talking about the world around us and how it’s changing, and moving that from being scary to being an opportunity.”
Leaders need to be open-minded. Laura says: “The challenges are understandable because if you take a lot of senior leadership, they’re having to relearn a way of thinking that doesn’t come naturally... It’s not just about learning techniques, it’s about learning to think differently about processes, about truly interactive and real-time communications, about the utilisation of information and how to analyse what's in front of us, as well as new media."
In order to fully endorse digital, leaders have to understand the tangible business benefits. Paul Brennan, Chairman of cloud infrastructure software provider OnApp, comments: “A lack of awareness of the value proposition means you could miss opportunities, so education is important for senior executives to fully embrace digital. You need to understand the benefit to your organisation.”
At the very least, they have to be honest about where gaps in knowledge and expertise may lie. Mike Greene, Chairman of pharmaceutical and consumer healthcare company WinchPharma Group, says: “Boards need a diverse mix of experience, energy and ambition... If they haven’t got someone who's digitally savvy and digitally confident then their board is missing something, but unfortunately they often recruit in their own image.”
Julian says you have to “remove fear and de-risk digital” through experimentation and education: “Get them to play at home more. Ask them to use some of the modern apps that, frankly, kids are using.
“You [also] need an interpreter role; it might be your CTO or it might be head of R&D. Someone who can take relatively complex concepts of digital and introduce them to a board – it's something that we've found particularly useful at De La Rue. Crucially, you have to be really clear about where the customer value lies, the cost to achieve it and the steps to take.”
Younger employees are increasingly being approached to share their digital expertise, acting as reverse mentors for an older generation. Paul comments: “You need to utilise younger people who are going to be the consumers of your products and services in ten years' time, to understand how they want to communicate with you.”
Allied to this, employees should be allowed to experiment and test ideas. “You fail fast and learn,” says Bal. “What you want is an innovation kind of culture which says if you fail… and if something doesn’t work, you move on. You’ve got to create a culture which allows people to challenge the conventions.”
Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer at Webhelp UK, a company that provides outsourced customer services, says: “Huge insights can be gained from analysing conversations, utilising voice and text analytics, to truly understand customers’ emotions, frustrations and behaviours, and combining that with more traditional, structured data analytics... You need to ensure all customer engagements consistently reflect and represent the brand.
“Digital is so critical to businesses... It’s essential that digital is in [the company's] DNA, not a separate operating unit; not an adjunct... It needs to interface seamlessly with the rest of the organisation.”
Large corporates may struggle to embrace a truly digital culture, but senior executives must rise to the challenge. Ultimately, leaders need to ensure they are open-minded and willing to learn, while utilising new technologies and data in order to empower employees to meet changing customer demand.
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