The importance of developing a digital transformation mindset

17 November 2021 5 min. read
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In order to reshape a company’s culture, the leadership mindset must first transform. But getting this done is extremely difficult – or even impossible – when mindsets are not fully aligned, writes Colin Dean from M-Files.

An organisation’s culture isn’t simply produced overnight. It is the result of behaviours exhibited by the leadership teams and employees throughout the organisation. Culture is shaped and hardened over time, and the leadership team needs to be fully supportive in order to create a culture that is going to lead to success.

While the words “digital” and “transformation” often get used in the same sentence, the divide between understanding digital technologies and managing a transformation is often excruciatingly evident.

Digital business transformation is not as simple as implementing state of the art new cutting-edge technologies. It’s a new way of thinking about the business model and the value it can provide. It requires a mindset that embraces a new way of operating in the company by promoting transformation.

History shows that the most successful leaders of change are those who have developed an understanding of culture, message, and management. Using the expertise of technical, data, and business process experts, they understand the 360 degrees view of transformation.

In transformation, often a preliminary excitement comes with new initiatives, but when the shine and novelty subsides, the day-to-day life of execution becomes the norm, old cultural behaviours, and attitudes creep back into daily life, and the old organisational culture finds a way to re-introduce itself. Frequently the words of “this is how we have always operated” are echoed from boardrooms and meetings alike.

There will never be an easy way to change something that is at the core of an organisation. Every approach must be tailored to the organisation's culture and strategic goals.

Five key points to consider when developing a vision for transformational change:

Show leadership by example

As with any key transformation, senior management must be the face and voice of cultural change. If the c-suite does not enthusiastically and genuinely campaign for the desired culture transformation, these efforts will fall on deaf ears. In order to develop digital transformation mindsets throughout, management must lead by example.

Develop a culture of safe-to-fail

As with anything new in life or in business, nobody is going to succeed 100% of the time. However it is not failures that harm organisations per se, it is the fear of failure that harms any business in the long run.

Creating a “safe space” where employees can make mistakes without fear of being judged incompetent is one of the most difficult aspects of transformation. It’s vital that leaders set an example where out-of-the-box thinking, and experimentation is rewarded, not punished.

Further reading: How an employee-first culture can drive digital transformation.

Establish a flat department

Many organisations find it advantageous to develop horizontal teams, such as a centre of excellence to support and drive digital transformations. This will not only help with the need to create transformational mindsets throughout employees, but can also help pinpoint and address larger cultural obstacles.

Prioritise the wellbeing of employees

To push innovation, the days of exploiting workers under the guise of productivity are over. Especially in this new era where employee burnout rates are at record levels. According to a 2021 study conducted by Forbes, 52% of employees are experiencing burnout in 2021, up from the 43% pre-Covid-19.

Making room for reflection and informal discussion and casual learning is essential to not only encouraging creative thinking, but employee wellbeing.

Further reading: Employee wellbeing has become a key to management success.

Understand the landscape

A shift in organisational culture will almost always be more difficult than a technology change. Cultural change involves teams to align and collaborate in new ways, and also requires leaders to be more intentional about said change and embracing a digital culture – all while changing legacy systems, technologies, and structures that may prevent the organisation from fully transforming.

Digital transformation requires a deep understanding of how decisions are made and who has the authority to influence these decisions.

CEOs and their leadership teams must coordinate when communicating the set of aligned messages about the reason for the change, the responsibilities involved and the reward for a job well done.

Through the application of these five stages, leaders with a desire to understand and nurture company culture can make real progress in the quest to shift employee mindsets in the interests of business longevity. The ability to nurture company culture effectively is what sets the best transformation leaders apart from the rest. And nothing about that is related to technology.

The bottom line

An expert in all things digital is not needed when focusing on digital transformation. Rather, it means understanding the basics of digital technology and the potential it offers. With a “digital mindset”, employees can create an environment where all employees feel comfortable not only applying digital technologies to solve problems, but also driving growth.

About the author: Colin Dean is a Major Account Western Europe Director at M-Files, a company that provides an intelligent information management platform to companies in the professional services industry.