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Company culture is a hot topic - yet change is essential to growth

Roger Barr
25th June 2019

Digital transformation brings with it a unique set of issues. Chiefly, how do you encourage your staff to drive the cultural change necessary to make it a success?

  • Businesses on the road to digital transformation use simplified planning processes, optimised workflows and entrepreneurial thinking

  • Culture change is helping brands such as Aviva and Intuit become more agile, innovative and customer-focused

  • Purpose, leadership, stories and science are the building blocks of cultural change

Brands looking to achieve digital transformation need to change their culture first. Here’s how to lead that charge.

Digital transformation might sound like it's just about technology - about having a shiny new customer relationship marketing (CRM) system, employing artificial intelligence (AI) in your customer service or a killer Twitter feed - but really it is about the ability to use digital and evolving technology in a dynamic, agile way.

A confluence of digital infrastructure and rapidly evolving tech has radically changed both how businesses and consumers operate. From buying groceries to dating, commuting to banking, digital technology informs everything we do now. Legacy brands that are looking to make the most of this need to keep focusing on their customers, while agencies, too, have to change their business model and therefore their culture. Marketers on both the client and agency side need to focus on breaking down corporate silos, nurturing creative entrepreneurialism and investing in talent.

“Technology doesn’t drive change, people do. Often in digital transformation projects we focus a lot of our time on the technology and what we are going to buy and what we want to put out in the market, but we spend very little time on the change process and the people process around it.

“For digital transformation to be successful you have to have a culture of trust; people actually wanting a change and wanting to revise the ways of working, as well as having the right people on the ground in order to drive that.”

Saul Lopes, Head of CRM, Dixons Carphone

In 2014, Aviva embarked on a digital transformation aligned with its then chief executive Mark Wilson’s goal to become a “320-year-old digital disruptor”. The insurer’s strategy has been a sharp focus on both its technology and people assets. The establishment of its ‘Digital Garage’ initiative, a new kind of workspace housing digital innovation and development teams, embodies a conscious shift in the company’s culture. Here, in a warehouse in London’s tech district of Shoreditch, existing employees and new recruits are given the freedom to think and behave differently.

While budgets are typically shrinking within marketing, there's increased pressure to grow faster and unlock growth. Experimentation is key here, as is the ability to iterate quickly and react to findings effectively.

Similarly, the willingness from a cultural perspective to embrace failure is hugely important. Some of your experiments will fail, which will be difficult for some to stomach. Ensuring your organisation is culturally ready for failure is essential (we've put together this guide to growth marketing for further reading).

This type of digital transformation is inevitable yet when so much change is taking place. How do you ensure that your most valuable asset - your people - feel assured in their roles?

Culture drives performance

“Culture is the best lever we have [to promote change]; it is the glue that holds the organisation together and the soil in which everything else grows,” says Jenni Emery, author of new book Leading for Organisational Change. “Culture drives performance.” Emery believes purpose is the foundation of ‘culture’, and knowing and communicating one’s purpose is critically important. Alongside that, she says, culture’s building blocks are leadership, stories and science. “Leaders need to be authentic; show up; walk the talk; make the tough decisions; establish traditions; celebrate things and tell stories.”


The fact that culture and leadership are inextricably linked is evident at software brand Intuit. The organisation prizes the tenets of transparency, non-hierarchy and collaboration, values demonstrated by former chief executive Brad Smith who would send all 8,000 employees his own unedited performance review each year. Chief Innovation Officer Bharath Kadaba’s description of the company as “a 34-year-old startup” also offers insight into a dynamic culture poised to grasp the next waves of tech innovation. The business is continuously looking for new and better ways of doing things. Design thinking and a rigorous customer focus help the business produce next-generation products that solve real problems. Conversational interfaces today, mixed reality tomorrow.

Fundamentally, digital transformation is about change - in ways of working, in products and services, in marketing strategies, in business models. It is not about standing still. High profile examples of failed digital transformation efforts include entertainment brand Blockbuster whose proposition fell flat against that of disruptor Netflix and department store Debenhams that failed to notice that people were moving online.

Creating and fostering a different kind of corporate ethos, a new collaborative and entrepreneurial style culture, has been a key enabler of the change organisations need to make. Brands that are more open in their thinking are in a great position to let company culture drive digital transformation.

How is your marketing agency supporting your digital transformation?

We'd love to talk to you about your digital transformation strategy – get in touch with our chief growth officer Roger Barr.

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