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21 August 2020 7 min read

Shift 10: Organisational Alignment – Culture

Michelle Robins

Michelle Robins
Senior Manager | Customer and digital | London

Ben Morgan

Ben Morgan
Director | Customer and digital | London

As we draw towards the end of the Twelve Shifts of Digital blog series, we consider one of the most important yet difficult shifts to get right – the shift in organisational culture. Transforming a legacy culture isn’t always quick or easy, but it is fundamental to compete in the digital era where senior leaders face shorter timelines, increasing complexity, changing consumer behaviours and disruptive competition.

For leaders, the shift from:

  • Governance with perceived certainty derived from long-established command and control mechanisms, to one of
  • Servant leadership where empowered teams make decisions, within guardrails is rarely comfortable.

Multi-layered hierarchies are exchanged for closer, direct relationships with teams. As leaders adopt new behaviours their discomfort is replaced by an excitement at the new pace of change and the achievement of goals.

So what are these new digital mindsets and behaviours? And what are the attributes of new business leaders and team members that make it successful?

New digital mindsets and behaviours:

  • Adopt shorter planning cycles
  • Leverage digital to challenge and achieve breakthroughs in customer experience and established business processes
  • Embrace continuous learning and collaborative working
  • Create an environment in which test and learn is valued
  • Experiment without fear of failure
  • Foster talent and invest in a mix of team capabilities and persona types
  • Support empowered teams with thoughtful, quality decisions
  • Facilitate interfaces with less adaptable areas of the organisation

Start with the leadership team

Whether you adopt cultural change in one act across the entire organisation or in a staged approach, it’s important to create a vision for the change, and for leaders to adopt the new behaviours that will underpin it. Key amongst these are:

  • Thinking differently – embrace and believe that change is natural, achievable and beneficial. By learning to think differently we learn from the success of others, seek new ideas and truly listen to our customers and employees. Through this new lens we come to challenge the status quo, to seek improvement and adopt new behaviours.
  • Conscious collaboration – find ways to constructively challenge old-world behaviours. Seek to understand colleagues’ challenges and co-create solutions together to achieve the shared purpose.
  • Challenging old habits – just as champion sportspeople constantly practice and improve their skills, so leaders need to adopt new behaviours and catch themselves when the lapse into old ones.

An example of cultural change within the Insurance sector is an organisation that transitioned from a siloed waterfall organisation to embedding agile with 18 multi-disciplinary squads. Employee engagement improved through empowered self-organising teams, increased proximity to their customers and a faster pace of change.

Having adopted the change, what are the attributes of our new business leaders and team members?

As leaders, we:

  • Work as a single cross-functional team; setting aside our old organisational silos
  • Understand and adopt a growth mindset
  • Set the organisation vision and buy into it as a leadership team
  • Share the vision within our organisation. Engage the teams, listen to their views and expect to be challenged and to adapt it
  • Set the guardrails in place that empower teams
  • Are receptive to and adopt new metrics, better suited to a digital organisation
  • Value failure as a means of learning and are rigorous in adapting based on that learning
  • See teams as the experts, respect their knowledge and value their point of view
  • Influence progress by acting on daily conversations regarding support / interventions required
  • Trust progress made towards our goal through conversation and quarterly reviews. We are no longer reliant on a series of reports, milestones and RAG status updates
  • Value and invest in continuous learning and skills, in our teams and supporting tools
  • Find fulfilment in guiding and supporting a range of teams, sharing our experience and adapting our thinking with them
  • Recruit people who extend our digital skillset
  • Provide an environment in which teams have time to explore, to be creative and to innovate

Adapting leadership behaviours to the digital era has been central the digital transformation of the New York Times. Senior leadership took a step back and empowered their teams to take control over product and technology roadmaps and make decisions based on what they learn from the testing-and-learning platforms. They focused on hiring more tech talent and boasts that “no other newsroom in the world has more journalists who can code.” All these resources were leveraged across cross-functional agile teams that operated on two week sprints to develop MVPs for rapid testing.

As team members of empowered, cross-functional teams, we:

  • Contribute to constructive debate and consideration of the vision
  • Commit to achieve our planned work for the coming quarter and understand how our work contributes to the broader vision
  • Are confident to try new things, to learn from failures and to apply the learning
  • Listen to our team-mates, are receptive to new ideas and are keen to explore new approaches
  • Call out risks, potential failures and ‘worry beads’ as we go… we have open conversations about them with our leaders and ask for their guidance, without fearing their condemnation
  • Are prepared to stop/adapt our pet projects when they’re not achieving the metrics agreed
  • Have control over the systems and tools required to achieve success. Where they are dependent on others, those dependencies are agreed and worked through in advance
  • Invest in our capability, taking time to learn and to stay abreast of the latest thinking and sharing it with our team-mates

And importantly for all, we make it fun! For example, Bulb Energy recognises the shift to digital mind-sets and behaviours. They have an employee driven culture where everyone is encouraged to contribute. Decisions are made on a consensual basis if their employees see something that is not working, everyone is empowered to just act on it.

As these new behaviours become established it’s important to develop modes for experimentation and pathfinding to support them – the subject of the next of our Twelve Shifts of Digital.