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How to embrace the digital culture era

Jueves, 1 Agosto, 2019

Escrito por:

Craig Crawford
Craig Crawford
Former VP IT Strategy at Burberry & IT Strategist

Craig Crawford IT Strategist and founder of CrawfordIT interviews Steve Cadigan, from Cadigan Talent Ventures

Companies that fail to embrace today’s digital culture risk losing market share and the top talent to secure the firm’s future, says top “talent hacker” Steve Cadigan.


Profit and loss strategies are important, but today's C-suite is now more switched on than ever to how company culture is a game-changer driving business success.

Chief Information Officers and Chief Technology Officers are increasingly focused on evangelizing the switch to embrace a digital culture within firms as a critical step on the road to continued growth and business performance.

Those that fail to adapt to the digital transformation currently underway risk falling by the wayside to be replaced by more agile, disruptive and innovative rivals.

Staying relevant and drawing the maximum potential from individuals and business teams relies on placing a responsive, modern digital culture at the heart of company operations.

Upgrading to a digital culture is no mean feat, but it can – and must – be achieved in order to provide employees with the conditions to ensure companies and individuals thrive.

In a business world that changes at pace, it is critical for both individuals and organizations to think differently about how they develop talent.  High performing digital companies will build a model of continuous development in how they structure work and how they create a learning culture. To reap the greatest rewards in this new digital reality, organizations must create a way for their staff to constantly develop their skills through both on-the-job and in-classroom education.

In the first of a new series, we asked technology strategist and thought leader Craig Crawford to interview Silicon Valley business culture guru Steve Cadigan on how digital transformation is radically reshaping the work environment and dramatically recasting business culture.


Craig Crawford: Steve, thanks for taking the time to have a chat and launching this interview series. Today, we are talking digital transformation and its impact on the workplace and business culture, so to kick us off, perhaps we can start with some basics. Digital transformation can be such a hazy term. So, what does it really mean to you?

Steve Cadigan: If we strip it down, a digital transformation strategy is one that says we want to be more effective and efficient, and we believe we can leverage some technology to achieve that outcome. It’s one of the big challenges today in any industry, whether social entrepreneur, for-profit or not-for-profit, or a professional institution. Everyone is looking for an advantage through technology and every organization has an obligation to find new and better ways to be more successful and productive.

However, I do think that to achieve a successful ‘digital transformation’ today we really need to come up with a new language. When you tell someone at an organization that they’re going to go through a digital transformation, you immediately press the panic button in their brain. We have done a horrible job marketing the upside of digital transformation to individuals.

C C: Does that tell us something about how staff perceive the idea of digital transformation? 

S C: Absolutely. As a result of an avalanche of stories in the media about the technological Robot revolution, most people think robots and AI are going to take over their jobs and this is creating great fear. Research has shown that working in an environment of psychological safety is the most important factor for people to do their best work. Telling people robots are going to take their jobs raises fear and harms any sense of safety.

A better way to communicate the idea is to say, we need to find a way to be more successful as an organization and that we believe leveraging some of this new technology will make you more effective and allow you to do more interesting work. Throughout history, humans have wanted to get smarter and more effective. This is a natural evolution. We need to market this as a good idea for the individual, yet at the same time we need to be realistic and honest that some jobs may change and or be replaced by technology and in those cases we need to tell employees what we are going to do about those who are impacted.

C C: True, that’s nothing new, but why is a strong digital culture so imperative right now? What benefits can it add?

S C: The fast pace of business is forcing organizations to be more agile. It’s a competitive necessity. Organizations used to have a five-, 10- or 15-year planning cycle, but today having a 10-year plan is more fantasy than reality.

Today’s business world is about experimentation, fast iteration and learning; that’s not in line with the predictable outcomes and safe plans that a board of directors want. It puts the pressure on, but the new reality of business is that you’ve got to be prepared to change quickly. So if you are working in a world where the future is uncertain, having a culture where you can learn and apply quickly, having a culture where you can adapt and change fast gives you an enormous competitive advantage. This is not easy to do because it’s very different to how we have thought about organizations in the past where we have valued specific and deep expertise over agility and flexibility which are super-strengths today.

C C: So it’s about working more in a state of flow, constantly changing.

S C: Exactly. That state of flow enhances creativity and productivity. Employees can get behind exciting projects and push them forward.

Take the Unicorns – the Ubers, Facebooks, and LinkedIns – they didn’t start out in the businesses they are in today. They tried their original idea, they learned what worked and what did not, they shifted their business as they learned, and they doubled down in the areas that seemed to be valuable to the marketplace.  If you hire a bunch of experts they may not be as capable of shifting and moving as talent that is more versatile.

C C: How can business culture positively or negatively influence the impact of new technologies?

S C: A good culture is one where you can change and people aren’t still grasping onto the way they used to do things. If you want your staff to work differently or to use new tools and technologies there needs to be a culture of trust. If the team does not trust your judgement you will face a big challenge to adopt new ideas and technologies and this is where I see many companies fail. Most organizations start by selling why the technology is cool and why it’s good for the company. Instead, they should focus on why this is good for the individual and then the company and the customer and market.

C C: The right culture can enhance the technology tools?

S C: Right. There’ll be better adoption and greater impact. And in a super high performing culture, you will often find the team finds even better ways to evolve work and make the company more successful before management initiates a “digital transformation”.

C C: So what does a good digital culture look like?

S C: I’d look for a few key ingredients: Is there an openness to try new things? Is there a culture of experimentation and learning? Is failure tolerated and in some cases expected as part of the learning process? Are people trying new technologies and applying them? Are people being rewarded for experimenting? Are they looking for ways to do things better? Does the company have a listening platform so ideas can surface and be shared quickly and effectively?

Digital transformation doesn’t mean a workforce of robots, or having apps coming out of your ears; it means being more strategic and more productive. You need an analog approach alongside, with trust and human interaction. I look for very high-frequency communications, companies that pulse employees regularly, and have flat organization structures where decisions are explained, not just taken. People need to have a chance to poke at the decisions and voice their concerns. These are elements I look for in effective digital cultures. In summary, there is nothing very different in a digital culture than what exists already in organizations where there is an expectation to adapt and adjust, to learn and to improve. Typically you find a great many people in these organizations who believe they can make decisions and impact.  I don’t want to give people the impression that this is an impossible destination.

C C: The idea of a lightning-fast pace of change must be unsettling for some employees. What’s the best strategy for managing that anxiety?

S C: You are so right Craig, and in fact I think managing this anxiety is a very critical strategy for organizations today. We all have more information than we can possibly consume and everyone is expected to do more, go faster, and to be more productive. That is causing stress in organizations around the world. Feeling behind is not a good feeling, or feeling you have no time to achieve what you need to achieve.  Add on to that the whole narrative that jobs are changing and that AI and Robotics and technology are going to replace millions of jobs – how could people not feel anxious and fearful?

I think we need to have more honest conversations about this. The Guardian and The Atlantic, two respected publications, both came out recently declaring that we are now in what they have termed “The Anxiety Economy”. We need to do a better job of recognizing stress, of allowing people time to breath and to catch up, to listen and ensure we are helping our talent find a harmonious balance. This is a very very complex task but as we see global signs of depression, anxiety and stress rise, it's becoming more paramount.

I think one of the most important strategies an organization should consider today is building trust in their organizations. Trust that allows people to say, “I’m not feeling well”, or to say “I am overwhelmed and need help.” And we need to do this so people can express these things and not feel management will consider them weak or inferior.  We have a great amount of work to do here and this is very top of mind for me.

C C: Do you think that’s what’s driving the average job tenure down? I know in America now, 23-35-year-olds average 2.8 years in a role. Are people jumping before they’re pushed?

S C: I think that is one of the things contributing to a high increase in global turnover for that age demographic, but if we dig deeper there is something more fundamental at work here. I think it's fear. John Seely Brown, the former CEO and CTO of Xerox who has now dedicated himself to the future of education, made a really interesting observation recently that is at the core of why people are leaving. He said that today the half-life of a skill is 5 years and that not long ago it used to be 50! That is astounding. If what we learn in school only has a 5- or even a 10-year value to us – we are left with a reality where we are going to continuously need to build our skills and we have to do that with a great lack of clarity around what skills we need to build. That is very, very unsettling and at the root of why people leave jobs today faster than ever. People are leaving if they think they are not growing or learning in a way that will make them more relevant for tomorrow. If they think another company will offer them faster or better growth, they will leave. And in fact they feel they have to leave to achieve this. I am not sure I see organizations recognizing this new reality yet, because many companies are still focused on building engagement and targeting retention. I think a better focus should be on development and growth of their workforce because it will help them solve both of those objectives.

C C: Realistically, how fast can you transform the culture of a company, taking a company with a traditional working culture and turn it into one with a powerful digital culture?

S C: Well in truth, it depends. It depends on how much you want to change and how much trust there is in the leaders who want to drive the change. To drive big company culture change, you need to destroy some sacred cows, you need to build trust, you need to show proof and this takes time – in some cases, years. If you are starting from a bad place of distrust of leadership it could take longer. If you really want to change something significantly, you need to use some shock and awe to send a signal you are serious and as a mentor of mine once said “trust is consistency over time”, so you have to be consistent in showing people you are serious and showing them what the new culture looks like and why it’s the better choice. I think it can be done but this is not an exercise of bringing in consultants or launching some “program”. I worked in a company once where the new culture slogan was “walk the talk” and I'm not kidding when I tell you that after introducing this to the leadership team they passed out wind up chattering teeth to all of us. It was like a scene from a bad movie and made everyone think the whole idea was a charade.

C C: Where should executives focus their efforts when it comes to building a strong digital culture?

S C: As much as they can I strongly suggest leaders try to keep this simple and be authentic in this undertaking. If you are unsure of something you need to let the team know you are uncertain. I think leaders and executives are trusted more when they show their humanity and being uncertain sometimes is very human. Being certain all the time is not. There are a lot of headwinds out there today that prevent digital transformation being successful, but building a culture of trust is vital. If you’re asking people to contribute to an uncertain future; they have to know that you’ve got the best interests of shareholders, employees – not to mention customers – in mind.

Once you have the trust, engage front line people in making the right decisions for the company…and let them contribute. Demonstrate how the changes could benefit them and drive success for all of us.


Our ISDI Expert BIO:

ISDI Digital University co-founder and renowned “talent hacker”, Steve Cadigan is a leading thinker who helps individuals and companies adapt to the rapidly changing digital business environment and ensuring they achieve their maximum potential.

A Silicon Valley veteran, with a career spanning more than three decades including stints working with LinkedIn, Eventbrite and Cisco, his human resources knowledge and insight has helped organizations develop the right talent and culture strategies to attract the best people in the digital era.

He founded Cadigan Talent Ventures in 2012 and regularly shares his tips for turning business culture into a competitive advantage and has reframed the discussion of what a “career” really means in today’s fast-moving professional marketplace.

An accomplished public speaker and writer on digital culture and business transformation his clients include Twitter, Square, Andreessen Horowitz, GoPro and Google.


Next on: Craig Crawford get interview but another ISDI expert. Wanna know more? Stay tuned.

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