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The Role of Organizational Culture in Digital Transformation

Digital transformation or modernization is about transforming how everything at your organization works together to achieve your organizational goals—from the way you store donor information to how you deliver services and manage payroll—and integrating them into a cohesive, digital ecosystem.

But is everyone else at your organization ready? Digital transformation is about more than the technologies your organization will use—it’s also about organizational culture, who will be using the technologies, and how staff work together across the organization to implement these new tools and systems.

Three necessary cultural attributes for a digital-first organization

The culture of an organization can have a huge impact on whether or not a digital transformation goes smoothly or hits bumps along the way. You’ll see a much higher return on your investment in new technical tools if leadership and employees are all invested in digital transformation as well. How do you know if your organizational culture will support a successful digital transformation?

1. Risk-tolerance and openness to change

Do the people at your organization want to try new things? Is taking risks rewarded? Is failure acceptable? If not, then you’ll need to do some change management work to help people understand why change and experimentation are necessary to organizational success. We’ve seen digital transformations slowed down or stalled because of different risk tolerances and attitudes toward trying new things across the organization. 

2. Cross-functional collaboration

One of the main goals of digital transformation is breaking down digital silos and integrating your digital ecosystem. In order to do this well, your organization should also be operating in a collaborative way, without barriers between work areas and employees. Is cross-functional collaboration supported and encouraged, or does your organization have a siloed, hierarchical culture? If so, you may need to introduce new structures, like a digital working group, that can facilitate cross-functional collaboration and hold people accountable to colleagues in other departments. 

3. Buy-in at every level of the organization

Do people throughout your organization care about your digital ecosystem and how to make it better? Does your workforce already understand the need to undergo this initiative?  In order to succeed, your IT team can’t be the only ones forcing everyone else to learn new tools and follow new processes. Or worse—leadership telling their employees that this is something they “have to do.” The work of implementing digital modernization impacts people across the organization at all levels, so everyone needs to understand why this is happening and how it will benefit the organization, and, ultimately, their own roles and responsibilities, too. 

How to create cross-functional buy-in for your digital transformation

Organizational cultures that support successful digital transformations don’t usually happen organically—they must be actively built. If your organizational culture isn’t quite where it needs to be, here are a few things you can work on in tandem with more technical pieces. 

First, it’s important to pinpoint people who have bought into the digital transformation project and will be able to bring others on board. Sometimes called “ambassadors” or “champions”–these people will be so enthusiastic about the digital transformation work that they’ll inspire their coworkers to be excited too. It’s important to find these people in every team or division of your organization.

One way to bring people in from different areas of your organization is to form a cross-functional working group or advisors from across your organization to be involved in the digital transformation process. Make sure they know that one of their responsibilities is to update their own teams and ensure that everyone they work with knows what is going on–and most importantly, why things are changing–so that the rollout and implementation is smooth. 

We worked with CASE (The Council for Advancement and Support of Education) to develop a three-year strategic roadmap to move from an event-first strategy to a digital-first strategy.  CASE has a relatively traditional organizational structure but had very clear messaging from leadership on what the digital transformation would look like and why they were doing it. The message was not “here are some new systems and tools for you to learn,” but rather, “we’re overhauling how our organization works.” They set up a digital committee to govern all of the pieces, and this helped shift the culture throughout the organization because they had a transformation ambassador in every department to explain and champion the changes that were happening.

Whether you’re just starting to think about a digital transformation initiative for your organization, or you’re already in the process of modernizing your digital systems, think about the part that culture plays in your plan. What will it take to socialize this work internally? And are there aspects of your organizational culture that may need to change?

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