If an organization’s strategic goals and objectives are the foundation of digital transformation, and leadership, governance, digital competencies, education and training, and change management are the building blocks, then culture is the mortar that connects and binds everything together.
Many organizations have moved forward with a variety of digitization efforts, at least from an operational perspective, much more quickly than they have with digital engagement (both external and internal). Although digitization is a necessary component of digital transformation, it is hardly sufficient. Leaders must recognize that the “bigger wins” will come when they integrate social technologies throughout their operations, effectively becoming what is often referred to as a “social enterprise” or “social business.”
Cultural components are critical to this aspect of digital transformation. I discuss the necessary cultural elements in What Factors are Relevant to Becoming a Social Enterprise?, highlighting the characteristics that are less important than people think (i.e., organizational type and focus, size, age, financial resources, and workforce characteristics), as well as those that are more important than people think (i.e., cultural values). The key cultural drivers, in order of importance, are:
- Performance values
- Operational efficiency
- Organizational effectiveness
- Financial performance
- Innovation values
- Human capital and communication values
Many social enterprise advocates reverse this order of priority, emphasizing the importance of things like empowerment, egalitarianism and engagement in creating the kind of cultural environment that enables employees to leverage social tools most effectively. As an extension of that argument, they’ll emphasize that more hierarchical and command-and-control environments are not only not conducive to social technologies, but that they’re antithetical to them.
As well intentioned as these ideas may be, they’re a little bit misguided and maybe even counterproductive. The truth of the matter is that social technologies can work perfectly well in more traditional cultures because of the ways in which they can enhance efficiency and effectiveness. Especially in the short term, performance values may be the biggest drivers of adoption, so their importance should be emphasized rather than minimized.
The cultural values discussed in What Factors are Relevant to Becoming a Social Enterprise? are obviously not unique to social enterprises, and that’s part of the point. Leveraging social technologies should be part and parcel of an organization’s sound management principles. As new tools for doing old things, they should be integrated into the existing culture and mission of an organization rather than being viewed as something that requires dramatic changes before they can be leveraged effectively. (for more on that idea, check out Social Software Implementations: A Judokan Approach to Change)
Many organizational leaders would agree that most if not all of these values are important. But as with any initiative, the leaders have to be able to enact these values, not just espouse them. In other words, they have to be prepared to “walk their talk.” As I discuss in Social and Digital Engagement: You Can’t Outsource Leadership, they have to make a personal commitment.