Transforming Culture at the Speed of Light: Go Digital

It’s time to stop holding out for people to be physically co-located, sitting down for face-to-face one-on-ones, or betting on video-based conferencing and teleconferencing to carry the day. Here are two straightforward strategies to help speed up your culture change efforts.

Culture isn’t only the most popular word in the world (named the 2014 “word of the year” by Merriam-Webster), it’s one of the most powerful words in business today. Culture change and culture transformation are on the agenda of many organizations today as a top business priority. Key to the culture management skill set are two core competencies:

  1. The ability to accelerate the change process and speed it up
  2. The ability to engage the masses in the change effort

Some would argue that it takes years to change culture. Consider these results from our own studies, with feedback from more than 40,000 professionals in a variety of industries and job titles: Almost half say it takes several years to change culture, while the other half say it can be done in as little as several months. Practitioners like us have learned that culture can change quickly and boost results rapidly, if approached the right way.

Why try and accelerate culture change? Our answer is simple: Because you can. And when you do, it brings impact directly to the bottom line. One retailer we worked with tried everything it could think of—10 different strategic initiatives, in fact—to improve a drop in same-store sales. After all of these failed, it decided to try “working on the culture.” It implemented the simple tools that we teach in our work in 50 pilot stores. An increase of same-store sales below 2 percent meant a “no-go”; between 2 and 4 percent meant “study further”; more than 4 percent meant a “go” decision to implement enterprise-wide to its 1,000 stores. Within five weeks, it saw an 8 percent increase in same-store sales and customer count. It wasn’t just a few of the pilot stores that produced these results—85 percent of all test locations were delivering these numbers. The retailer’s response: Stop the pilot and get this into the stores as soon as possible.

The solution, in this case, was not a new product, new displays, or new people. Rather, it was a new way of thinking that a more focused store culture brought to the front-line associates doing the selling. The ability to accelerate culture change is not an option; it’s a requirement to stay competitive in today’s challenging market conditions.

It’s Time to Go Digital with Culture Change

In today’s widely distributed workforce with remote office requirements, relying on face-to-face encounters to accelerate this shift in culture is slow and unreliable. These days, everything and everyone is going digital, and so should your efforts to change culture. Consider the quest to build greater real-time collaboration into today’s corporate cultures with the relatively recent offering of digital tools: Slack, Chatter from, Yammer, and Jive. There’s massive evidence our society wants to participate and collaborate online. And the possibilities have never been greater—all fueled by the popularity of social platforms (such as Facebook’s 1.44 billion users and LinkedIn and Twitter’s 300 million plus each).

At the recent 2015 Code Conference, Mary Meeker, former Morgan Stanley analyst and original author of the 20-year old Internet Trends Report, unveiled the 2015 update of her report. She learned that 87 percent of Millennials (the largest generation in the workforce this year) say that the “smartphone never leaves my side.” She also found that 34 percent of  Millennials “prefer to collaborate online at work as opposed to in-person or via phone (vs. 19 percent for older generations).” This corresponds to our own experience in the digital world and the well-known fact within the industry that people are more honest online. This means that not only is digital a smart strategy to speed things up but a necessary strategy to fully engage today’s workforce.

Key to speeding up culture change is plugging into the communication system and changing the conversation. That requires feedback, collaboration, and total employee engagement. Here are a few things we learned from our own studies:

  • Ninety-nine percent of people agree that stepping up the effective exchange of feedback would speed up the rate of culture change.
  • Just one-quarter of all people feel that others in the organization successfully collaborate across functional boundaries in a way that it could be characterized as a clear strength.

When it comes to the tools and methods that create and sustain culture, very few people get these right:

  • Just 18 percent are hearing the stories that foster the desired culture they need.
  • Nearly half the population (46 percent) gets stuck quickly on the problems and obstacles they face—forcing a retreat to the old culture.
  • Four out of five organizations fail to give recognition in a way that fosters the desired culture they want. This is backed by evidence that organizations most effective at integrating technology into just one dimension of culture management—their employee recognition programs—were three times more likely to be in the top quartile of business performance.

The times of relying mostly on these non-digital means are over. Even the U.S. Federal Government recently mandated its agencies to go digital, calling this “the new normal.” It should come as no surprise that 82 percent of those who have tasted these new digital approaches want even more.

Two Strategies

So it’s time to stop holding out for people to be physically co-located, sitting down for face-to-face one-on-ones, or betting on video-based conferencing and teleconferencing to carry the day. We recommend two straightforward strategies to help speed up your culture change efforts:

1. Embed collaborative technologies and digital tools in business processes. Our own research shows that 62 percent feel their organizations not only should but “must” use technology to help facilitate their culture change efforts. Our experience with our own culture change digital tools and a user base of 750,000 people underscores the desire for sustainable solutions that continue the experience beyond the training room or meeting—digital tools can help you do that.

2. Walk the talk. Boardroom behaviors are magnified all the way to the front line. Don’t merely assume that these tools are for “everyone else.” Eighty-four percent of our respondents said that the example of the leader using the training is the single most important factor in influencing others on the team to use the practices the training introduced. When leaders become tech savvy and reach out digitally, they will start hearing things they have never heard before—things they want and need to hear.

Digital will transform the ability of every leader to reach out, collaborate, get input, and engage around culture change. DataStax CEO Billy Bosworth added insight into the transformational nature of technology when he said, “Ten years from now, when we look back at how this era of big data evolved, we will be stunned at how uninformed we used to be when we made decisions (2015 Internet Trends Report).”

The Case Is Clear: Don’t Get Left in the Stone Age

Organizations increase their chances of transforming their cultures and setting themselves up for greater success by deploying digital tools that foster essential collaboration and engagement with the effort that sustains total employee involvement over time. Most importantly, digital tools fit the model of continued-use process and act as a key vehicle for sustaining the effort over time—beyond workshops, meetings, and kick-offs. As the distributed work model has become more prevalent and virtual teams more common, all within a global setting, adding a digital solution becomes even more essential. So, goodbye, caveman, and hello digital!

Roger Connors and Tom Smith are the four-time New York Times bestselling authors of an extensive body of knowledge on workplace accountability and are considered experts on the subject. Their company, Partners In Leadership, is a premier provider of accountability training and culture change services and has enabled thousands of companies and millions of people to achieve dramatic results. Learn more at


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