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Transforming culture: What does digital culture look like?


Being a digital organization means more than having digital products, services and customer interactions. It means that core operations are now being run by technology, which means the job descriptions for employees also have to radically change. It also means they also have to change their behavior. Otherwise what’s the point of having flexible, fast and helpful technology if employees can’t embody the same behaviour? If digital transformation is going to succeed, it has to be a cultural transformation. And that requires changes in leadership style, in the roles of employees, and in behaviour. So how does a digital culture act and behave?

A digital culture starts at the top, with executives who are proactive and rigorous about shaping culture. In a recent McKinsey digital survey on culture, respondents identified three cultural intervention points—risk aversion, customer focus, and silos. Most cultures are inherently risk-averse, but in today’s climate, taking a risk is often the most direct path to innovation. For instance, executives have to continually ask themselves whether they are trusting their employees at all levels to make decisions that aren’t bogged down by reporting structures or red tape. With a laser focus on these three issues, leaders can get on the road to cultural transformation.

A digital culture empowers employees to deliver results faster. Digital organizations move faster than traditional ones, and their flatter hierarchy helps speed up decision-making. In traditional organizations, bank employees can be stuck in traditional ways of working that are incompatible with front-facing technology – things like working around legacy systems, reporting structures from decades ago or dealing with siloed data. Meanwhile customers can carry out tasks quickly and efficiently on the front end. Staff need to be as agile as customers are, and that requires new behaviours. For starters, employees need the latitude and autonomy to make decisions that are in the customer’s best interests. In turn, senior management must empower staff with their trust to carry out these decisions. It’s a risk worth taking – because moving faster gets you one step closer to being one step ahead of the customer, anticipating their needs before they are aware of them.

A digital culture develops teams that are autonomous and self-managing. One aspect of a siloed organization is the tendency to have a siloed approach to accountability. When it comes to cultural norms, this can translate into a “that’s not my problem” approach to work. To counteract this mentality, organizations can develop cross-functional teams who collaborate together to solve problems. Bringing together a mix of employees from diverse backgrounds, such as marketers, engineers, product develops and commercial specialists, provides greater flexibility for making decisions and driving value. A shared view of the customer and a common definition of success can bind these teams together

Culture is a key determinant of successful digital transformation. Banks can’t afford to adopt the latest in digital technology tools without changing the way they think of themselves and their place in customers lives. Digital transformation is not about applying technology. It’s about changing mindsets and transforming the culture, the structure and the organization, from the inside out. Without a change in the way people work and behave, technology is likely to fall flat. Banks have to embrace digital cultural characteristics, such as customer centricity, responsiveness and transparency and embed them within all their processes.

It takes time to develop a digital culture. Organizations need to build and foster a culture and community where people are encouraged to share experiences, to test new ideas, and to collaborate. The sooner banks embrace this shift in cultural thinking, the sooner they will be able to compete in today’s digitized, multichannel world.