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June 18, 2021
2 min read

Why Culture Is So Important For Data-Driven Transformation

With COVID-19 forcing many of our habits and behaviors to fundamentally change, it has underwritten extensive and profound digital transformation of life.  We now work remotely, consult our doctor via telemedicine, use apps to monitor our movements, and consume a dizzying array of online content.  It should perhaps come as no surprise, therefore, that a recent report from DellEMC views digital transformation as crucial to the recovery of businesses after COVID.

"Prior to recent disruption, the pace of transformation was lagging - making the imperative to transform in recent months even more challenging," the report says.  "In response to these turbulent times, however, we’ve seen a major acceleration in digital transformation."

Successful change

Historically, however, digital transformation has not been something that organizations have done particularly well, with success rates often below 10%.  For instance, a pre-pandemic report from MIT Sloan showed how pedestrian many digital transformation efforts actually were.

Of course, the pandemic changed that with many organizations forced to change by the overnight transformation of their industry. There are, of course, still those who have managed this transformation better than others, and the latest edition of MIT Sloan's Future of Leadership study showed the importance of culture in successful digital transformation.

"New research suggests that digital workforces expect digital transformation to better reflect and respect their concerns and values, not just boost business capabilities and opportunities," the authors say. "In the current environment, leaders must pay close attention to how their leadership is experienced, and consider whether digital tools, techniques, and technologies are making their companies’ key stakeholders — including employees, consumers, and investors — feel more valued.

Getting the culture right

The importance of culture was reinforced in New Vantage’s annual survey of C-suite executives.  It suggested that the biggest barrier to successful data-driven transformation isn’t a technological barrier but a cultural barrier.  Indeed, an incredible 90% of respondents to the survey cited cultural factors as the main hurdle they face in becoming truly data-driven. 

This is perhaps a bitter pill to swallow for many CIOs who get hung up on buying the latest data architecture or embrace agile methodologies and data centers of excellence when what is really required is an authentic data culture.  What’s more, this culture needs to spread throughout the entire organization so that data infuses every corner of the business, not just the IT team.

There are a number of things organizations can do to help get culture right:

  • Ensure meaningful buy-in from executives, with this going beyond the lip service and soundbites that so often define executive involvement in digital transformation.  Culture change requires more than piloting the latest trendy technologies and instead demands embedding data in the very DNA of the business.
  • Be prepared for the long haul, as while the rhetoric around digital technology speaks of disruption and change, this is not going to be an overnight process.  As Edison famously said, this is about 99% perspiration.
  • Establish realistic goals, as it’s important that data is being used in a way that drives meaningful and lasting impact on the things that really matter for the organization, its partners, and its customers.  This change needs to be measurable and realistic given the resources and constraints you’re operating under.
  • Always learn, as steady progress is better than rapid growth.  The essence of a data-driven culture is its ability to transform you into a learning organization, and the same principles apply to data-driven transformation.

Organizational culture is literally "the way we do things around here", and data promises to fundamentally change how organizations and their employees operate.  As such, it is nothing if not a culture change initiative that will require them to go about business in a different way.  Only then will the true benefits of a data-driven culture emerge.