It is ironic that digital transformation is seen as the new promised land for companies, and that the model they are looking to adopt is found mainly in California’s Silicon Valley…

The old “California or bust” represented by the picture of this depression era family, squeezing themselves and their meagre possessions into a jalopy sums up pretty well the feat of companies caught off guard by the rise of the digital era.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 2 years, digital transformation is a red hot topic nowadays. There are at least four new articles related to the topic indexed by Google every day, as well as numerous newspaper and magazines covering it on a constant basis.

Adding to the buzz, every new tech solution and every new vendor is promising to revolutionize a business category and instantly solve companies’ digital pain points.

If this pace of innovation is not fast enough for you, let’s add a huge amount of complexity, a good measure of hype and fake news and now tell me how any normal executive can figure it out. It has become extremely hard for companies to distinguish between solutions they really need and expensive digital snake oil readily available from the usual technology vendors…

The good news is that if you are trying to figure things out it means you are still alive. Some companies did not make it that far. Since 2000 the list of those departed to the corporate junkyard is full of great names that did not see, did not want to act or were not fast enough to transform their business before the death knell tolled.

With the amount of help available from consultants and vendors alike you would think that organizations should have aced their digital transformation by now. Apparently, they are still struggling… What happened?

In the last ten years, we have seen companies engaging in digital-related strategies firstly by hiring talent and securing the budget to execute a plan. When this strategy was not paying dividends, they realized (or were told) that the rest of the organization was :

1) not structured to align with its digital strategy, and
2) did not use the right tech and tools…

So, the next phase was ushered in precipitously and digital transformation was fast tracked at every level of the organization. By hook or by crook everyone was rushed into a new digital dawn and became swamped with digital work…

From their computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone, people were trying to cope with a constant influx of urgent emails, “do or die” tasks, “drop everything and run” notifications, flash mob meetings, “must attend” webinars. All of that generated a maelstrom of shared documents to check and update…

The result of this digital death march? People burned out, either leaving the company or becoming numbed, detached from their work and resisting change.

Then came the rude awakening for the leadership team. This death march revealed that they never had the foundation of a strong digital culture upon which to build a successful transformation. No matter how hard the changes were pushed there never was a fertile ground for them to flourish.

Anxious to finally get it right, leadership went for the big shake up and made another bad decision. Older employees were shunned or given the boot and recruiting managers went out of shape to seduce and recruit digital natives with the objective of immediately obtaining the outstanding benefit from their digital culture…

Wrong again! The type of digital culture younger generations brought to the workplace was clashing with the existing culture and not really compatible with corporate policies (when it was not downright disruptive…).

All images above are memes (pronounce: miːmz/). Memes are how the younger generation exchange ideas and opinions on all type of subjects and it is an integral part of digital culture.

Yes, it can be fun and blunt, but imagine an older colleague, a customer or a supplier receiving this image in an email (and you know they eventually will) …
Watching and sharing videos, producing memes, commenting on Facebook status, non-stop texting friends and colleagues are all very “digital”, but this also breeds totally unproductive behavior.

Is this the outcome companies expect when they hire digital natives to restart their transformation?

After so many years of taking the wrong turn and losing opportunities, what should be done?

The answer is blindingly obvious:

“First, grow a strong digital culture in your organization”

In a next post, I will write about this elusive digital culture, why it is crucial for your digital transformation and the many colors and flavors it comes in…


Frederick Buhr is Zalis, head of digital practice and the co-author of soon to be published book about Productive Digital Culture with Daniel Cohen.

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