How organisational culture can destroy its digital conversion

1 February, 2017
How organisational culture can destroy its digital conversion

Farid Al Sabbagh is Vice President and Managing Director, Fujitsu Middle East.

We have been told to hire young people. We have been told we need new technology. We have been told that most organisations do not want it. Middle East businesses are awash with opinion, much of it misguided, regarding digitalisation and the foundations needed to implement it.

First, let us dispel falsehoods. Digitalisation does not just need young people. It requires people with flexibility and a range of skills. It does not just need new technology, it requires new business models. And, according to research, 80% of organisations want to do it. One truism we can be sure of is the vital nature of organisational culture in easing the digital conversion.

Organisations throughout the Middle East are finding barriers to digitalisation through deeply imbedded cultural practices. To make an organisation fully digital, there must be a willingness to develop and nurture digital corporate culture. This may be daunting, but to truly compete in modern business environment, one that favours the versatile, adaptable organisation, refining business culture can be critical for long-term future.

A system designed specifically to meet the needs of the consumer can often be undermined by a company’s established culture. Truly successful organisations are agile, able to adapt and respond accordingly. Digitalisation in the modern era repeatedly fails, due to an intrinsic inability to address cultural inefficiencies.

Digital allows employees throughout the organisation to share information easily. Horizontal and bottom-up information flows, at the expense of traditional top-down, allows expertise to move more freely and discussions are held more widely across the organisation.

With cloud-based technologies in place enabling a smoother management of projects and the sharing of information, teams are able to solve problems without referring to other teams.

This can worry senior management, as people active in helping others with freedom of expression and greater connectivity can sometimes build more respect than management themselves. Fear of losing control is one of the toughest obstacles to change in the digital transformation. It is certainly difficult to promote the reimagining of hierarchical structures to managers who have been reliant on them for many years, whilst encouraging the use of social platforms to share ideas.

Internal battles for influence can slow decision making, as can difficulties justifying value for the business. Again, senior managers can be reluctant to allocate resources to a process which remains difficult to quantify. In addressing digitalisation, there is still a tendency to focus too much on the technology, rather than a willingness to rethink how people work, the human centric aspect. This is crucial, as is becoming familiar with how decisions are made and implemented.

Creating an environment where individuals are free to experiment requires a visionary element. Visionaries help organisations focus on what is important in making the business function. Without flexibility and freedom to take initiative, organisations will be less likely to rethink how they work and managers will remain concerned with a loss of control. A new management attitude would coincide with a more defined career path and can help develop a skills plan.

Internal power play can put significant restraints on progress towards digitalisation. A shared sense of purpose can go a long way to alleviating work-based opposition, whilst granting a more agile decision making process.

The old organisational structure, with strict hierarchy and command and control, pushes those keen to influence further to the boundaries. Distributed decision making imbedded in the structure will lessen the likelihood of resistance to re-evaluate how they work.

The people least likely to interact with customers, and those who are unlikely to know exactly what the customer wants, are the ones making the vital decisions in an old business model. In this environment, high level managers will concentrate more on the actual technology, rather than discuss what it is used for and how it will help.

Technology such as cloud computing, big data analysis and the internet of things are formed for the basis of digital transformation and will go towards transforming on a business level, not simply a technological one.

An ability to look externally and be prepared to gain influence from an external environment will aid the digital transformation. Digitalisation is acting as a central point to facilitate necessary movement towards new business structures. There will be obstacles. Yet it is in identifying these obstacles that an organisation will truly be able to transform and reap the benefits of the digital revolution.

Key takeaways 

  • Digitalisation in the modern era repeatedly fails due to an intrinsic inability to address cultural inefficiencies
  • One truism we can be sure of is the vital nature of organisational culture in easing digital conversion
  • Organisations throughout Middle East are finding barriers to digitalisation through deeply imbedded cultural practices
  • Horizontal and bottom-up information flows allow expertise to move freely and discussions are held widely across the organisation
  • People active in helping others with freedom of expression and greater connectivity can sometimes build more respect than management themselves
  • Fear of losing control is one of the toughest obstacles to change in digital transformation
  • It is difficult to promote reimagining of hierarchical structures to managers who have been reliant on them for many years
  • There is still tendency to focus too much on technology rather than a willingness to rethink how people work
  • A shared sense of purpose can go a long way to alleviating work-based opposition, whilst granting a more agile decision making process.
  • Internal power play can put significant restraints on progress towards digitalisation
  • People least likely to interact with customers and those unlikely to know exactly what the customer wants are the ones making vital decisions in old business model
  • Yet it is in identifying obstacles that an organisation will be able to transform benefits of digital revolution

Senior managers interested in maintaining positions of internal control may work against free collaboration within, elaborates Farid Al Sabbagh at Fujitsu.


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