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April 11, 2019

How an Employee-First Culture Can Drive Digital Transformation

The majority of companies around the world are embarking on digital transformation initiatives of some form, but many do not realize the key to success.

Amir M
Amir M

Organizations who are embarking on a digital transformation project often need the agile support from all stakeholders. The entire team culture needs to shift — when speaking with leadership we want to ensure we have active buy-in from all team members. They should display willingness to do, instead of doing so only because they have been instructed to. The latter is not the mindset required to create a culture that will embrace change. And this culture change needs to happen top down and bottom up.


Unfortunately, this is a story that is happening far too often. C-Suites and senior decision makers are often awed by the promise of digital transformation, but fail to address issues concerning cultural acceptance within their organization — which, of course, is a major barrier to change. To truly benefit from the adoption of new technologies, it requires a shift in mindset.

It's time to move to an employee-first approach.

It’s not a surprise to me that Capgemini’s ‘The Digital Culture Challenge: Closing the Employee-Leadership Gap’ report reveals 62% of respondents consider culture as the number one hurdle to digital transformation, or that McKinsey’s Digital Survey reports that culture is the most significant self-reported barrier to digital effectiveness.


Simply put, culture, unlike technology, is not something that can simply be swapped in and out, or upgraded. It goes far deeper than that. Picture a company consisting of employees who do not want change, don’t understand why it would be needed, and are content as they are. This company will stagnate, rather than thrive.


To create meaningful change, getting employees on board is essential. This doesn’t mean a tech-first approach. This means an employee-first approach. But how?


Embracing an employee-first approach is the first, and most crucial, step in empowering your workforce. A happy, informed workforce will result in a smoother change journey. This may be easier for fast-growth businesses who thrive off the continual change-cycle associated with startup life, but for larger, corporate businesses, this change in approach must be implemented from the hiring process to team meetings and staff training.


The education of your workforce is your friend here. Your employees must feel included, they must feel empowered, and they need to understand why the change is happening. Failure to provide this level of transparency only results in alienation and friction.

Equally important is for your workforce to understand the added value the change will provide for both them and the company, as well as where they can provide value throughout the change process.

Communicating from the top

This education process must be regular and continual to keep your employees up-to-speed and engaged throughout the journey. They need to feel part of the process, rather than a by-thought. And crucially, these communications need to come from the top.


Senior leaders and decision makers need to be visible. They are the ones who need to spread the message and obtain employee buy-in. They are the ones who can generate real excitement in the transformation project.


Without a shift in culture, your digital transformation initiatives will hit stumbling blocks at every turn. Instead, focus on building an employee-first culture that will not only go on the journey with you, but help you get there. Only then can truly transformative change be achieved. Just keep in mind, culture is a constantly evolving entity. It isn’t something that, once achieved, can be forgotten about.

What does an employee-first culture look like?

If you want to drive your digital transformation project by shifting culture, here are a few things to think about:

  • Don’t focus on a tech-first approach, it’s the humans in your business that make it happen.
  • Embrace team chemistry and look for new candidates with the traits and attitudes you want to instill.
  • Continually remind your employees that they are the driving force for change.
  • Don’t promote siloed departments, promote one business with a united vision.
  • Encourage creativity and don’t be afraid of failure.
  • Pushing the boundaries indicates a willingness to do things differently.

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