For many people, change is uncomfortable and inconvenient, especially in their work lives. Concerns about more work, their ability to master new tasks, loss of control and uncertainty are just a few of the reasons many people will go to great lengths to avoid the new and the different. For companies in the midst of an all-out digital transformation, that’s a big issue. Digital transformation affects every aspect of the way people work and the way organizations do business.

Recently, over 600 senior executives were surveyed by The Economist Intelligence Unit on matters related to their own transformation efforts. Many of them recognize the impact digital technologies will have on company culture, and 72 percent say a change in culture is critical to implementing a successful digital transformation. Topping a list of critical initiatives, 38 percent of respondents said they would be implementing revised business processes and introducing organizational changes to accommodate their digital strategy.

Those changes to organizational structure include flattening the hierarchy as companies increase collaboration between functional and business areas. This is a priority that over a third of responding companies plan to implement.

Employees will be expected to work together as communities of experts in partnership with other areas of their company, or even other companies that are part of the same industry ecosystem. In this light, 48 percent of companies said they encourage cross-functional collaboration to better understand the organization’s digital requirements.

Experimentation: Expected and respected

Companies have many levers they can pull to help alleviate the inevitable fear of and resistance to change.

A big one, says Dan Hushon, senior vice president and chief technology officer at DXC Technology, is creating a culture where experimentation is not just enabled, but also expected — and respected.

“The risk is that people become afraid of taking a chance and afraid of sharing their failings. Because the organization might be so performance-driven, the only thing it will accept is a win,” Hushon says. “We want to share our learnings. What are the root causes of problems? How were they fixed? That’s valuable, especially as you need to move faster. So this is a very delicate balance.”

An organization’s leadership approach is key to driving cultural changes. In the survey, 68 percent of respondents approve of their organization’s efforts to identify and activate a digital leadership team or task force, with technology and healthcare companies most likely to follow through on those plans.

Leaders can create the right environment and set the right tone, but they can’t do it all; 29 percent of companies will be actively recruiting more digital-savvy employees and consultants in the coming year. To accelerate change, companies must seed the organization with digital-proficient individuals who can act as a catalyst for change by helping others realize the benefits of transformation.

 

Read more in the Economist Intelligence Unit survey, “2019: The Year of Digital Decisions,” sponsored by DXC Technology and the Leading Edge Forum.