Photo by: Sarah Pflug on Shopify Burst

Digital transformation is cultural transformation

Malin Sofrone
Nov 24, 2019 · 2 min read

How can it be that two similar companies, working in the same industry — use the same tools, read the same books and hire from the same pool of people — get different results?

One hypothesis that I have (based on personal observations) is that what a lot of companies try as a digital transformation is in fact a need for a cultural transformation.

I see old-style companies adopting modern services like Slack, Jira, Figma or Contentful and expecting transformations at organisation level. Sure, there are some positive changes at a certain level, no doubt about that. But more often than not, that only goes so far. This changes the tools in the company, but the habits stay.

What good is it to an employee that they can use Slack if they don’t have the courage to write to some manager, if they’re confronted with strict hierarchies or worse, have been discouraged from taking initiative?

To make the matter worse, some of the older organisations are confronted with what appears to be a contradiction: they’ve been active and successful in an industry for 10–30 years or more — so what they did before worked — but now they have to change to survive?

What I’ve seen with wiser companies is that they’ve understood they need to adapt with the times, understood the rules of the games have changed, that no one can predict the future and that what people expect from work has changed.

Because sure you can use Figma (or Sketch) to create a design, put it into an Invision prototype and share it with others as opposed to using Adobe Photoshop and Powerpoint, but if the people working on that design don’t have the chance to talk with customers directly, if they don’t own the decisions, if they’re told what to do by the big guys or if they’re not clear on the purpose, then things won’t go too far.

So what this means is that besides the software and technology inside a company, something else that needs to change are the ideas, customs and behaviours inside the company.

This responsibility goes both ways: managers need to listen to their employees, but also employees need to be assertive, clear and patient with things. And this can only happen with both parties are open to say “Hey, we don’t know how to make this work, let’s figure it out together.”

That’s where a lot of good changes can start.


Anecdote:

Manager: Hey John, do you want to transform our company?

John: Yes, of course!

Manager: What are the biggest changes you’d make?

John: Emmm… well, I’d…. let me think… 🤔

Malin Sofrone

Written by

Product manager and user experience designer. Love to share what I know and learn from others. Into long distance cycling.

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