Often, when I talk to business leaders about digital transformation, their focus is on the technology; “What systems, software, and processes are we going to need, Warren?”

These elements are important, of course, but actually successful digital transformation begins with something else.

The people in the organisation are crucial. Not just their skills and experience, but their attitude towards change, their appetite for innovation and their confidence in sharing ideas and making things happen. That’s all influenced by culture, and as a digital leader you need to be in for forefront of setting that. Without the right company culture in place, any transformation programme is dead in the water.

As says Carey Oven, a partner with Deloitte Risk and Financial Advisory at Deloitte & Touche LLP, says: “When organizations undertake digital transformation and focus only on technology at the expense of culture, that can hinder progress in many areas.”

One of the models I often refer people to is this Digital Transformation Philosophy:

Culture is one of the key pillars – with the right cultural alignment you have a far greater chance of success.

I was recently interviewed by Netweek about this, and I wanted to share with you some of the insights we discussed.

If you need to change company culture, where do you start?

One of the best places to start is with your organisational vision and goals. Ask yourself (and be honest), how well those are communicated and understood at every level of your organisation. If you can’t answer that question, go out and find out. (But to be honest, if you don’t know the answer already, it probably means you have a problem!)

Then you need to ask yourself a really tough question.

“What promises have you made before and NOT delivered on?”

If you have repeatedly made promises of change and these have failed, or not come to fruition for whatever reason then you’ve built a habit in your culture than must be changed immediately.

But it will take time to form new habits.

It’s crucial to be honest with yourself at this point, as it’s only be asking ourselves, and answering, the difficult questions that we can embark on a culture shift that will make our organisation fit for the future.

Create a “Digital Board”.

The next step is to create a Digital Board. This is a small group of individuals who live in the future and not the past, who are willing to take risks in order to innovate, and have the appetite to fail fast.

This appetite for failure is really important. You’re going to need to be able to move fast – to ideate, select, prototype and test again and again, so fear of failure isn’t an option!

You’ll know who in your organisation are the right people – but remember to look across the business for people in different areas and roles. Don’t be afraid to look at redeploying and upskilling people in non-obvious roles, either.

Culture change isn’t the purview of the HR team, for example, and more than creating a digital transformation strategy is down to the IT department.

Then let one person (CDO) drive the strategy and have visibility of all the elements; customer, employees, stakeholders etc. This person will be responsible for defining the strategy, but nothing happens without sign-off from the Digital Board.

The CDO’s job is to find and empower the digital champions across the organisation. They don’t necessarily need to be digital experts at the outset, so this might involve getting them trained on every aspect of digital transformation. Digital champions are crucial to your culture change and to the success of your digital transformation. At each stage of the process, these champions communicate to the rest of the staff and audience (by ‘audience’ I mean prospects, customers, partners, etc) getting consistent buy-in and building feedback loops.

Meanwhile, your Digital Board is formulating a digital transformation strategy that has clearly defined pillars of success over the next 12-36 months.

xGet Communicating

As part of your Leadership pillar of the Digital Transformation Philosophy, as well as part of your culture change, good communication is critical. If, when you asked yourself about how well your vision and goals were understood, your answer was ‘not much’, you’ve probably already figured out that your communication style and mechanisms might need to be addressed.

In a recent interview with Sage Finance Futurist, Tom Coward, we talked about the importance of communication for CFOs – and their role in setting the culture of an organisation.

Has Covid changed how we approach digital transformation?

Something else I get asked is how much the Covid-19 pandemic has changed how businesses are approaching digital transformation. It’s an interesting question, especially in relation to culture. With so many people working from home for many months, it’s fast-tracked digital developments in many businesses, but also highlighted how important culture is for organisations more reliant than ever on digital technology.

I actually did a survey recently of organisations across multiple industries from retail to tourism to banks and telcos and I asked them this very same question.

The results were mind-blowing.

79% said that the pandemic had had a positive impact on their adoption of a digital transformation strategy.

In some case I’ve seen what would have taken 10 months from ideation to implementation achieved in just 2 weeks.

What’s important here is that those organisations who achieved that successfully HAD to have the right culture in place to make it work. They were able to leverage the opportunity because they could communicate, motivate and mobilise people to get behind a huge shift. People felt able to contribute ideas, to innovate – and not be afraid to fail – because the culture was right.

Some of the quickest wins I’ve seen over the last 18 months, for example, have been in the use of chatbots for customer service using machine learning. It’s a learning curve finding the right vendor and then understanding the customer needs, but once up and running it can result in massive reductions in in-bound calls to call centres. Reducing the pressure there has then uncovered some amazing opportunities to redirect these now unused resources for redeployment and upskilling and start to manage other priorities.

What’s right for your organisation in terms of its digital transformation strategy will very much depend on the nature of your business. AI might not be the right tool for you. But something else will be.

What you do have in common with other businesses is the need to align your culture in order to make a success of your transformation programme.

Clear leadership, well-defined, understood and communicated goals, the right people in the right roles, with active and engaged digital champions, will all help to ensure that when you come to devise and implement a strategy, that transformation will take effect, will stick, and will see the organisation become one fit for the future.