Digital Transformation Technology

The importance of getting the right cultural fit for digital transformation

By Simon Swan, head of digital marketing

April 20, 2017 | 8 min read

According to Dell, 89% of organisations are activating strategies and digital transformation programmes to reduce the gap between modern customer demands and what is actually delivered by organisations.


Putting the customer at the centre of the organisation's strategy is essential and to do this, the first step in a transformation should address the cultural implications of the organisation. In other words, is the organisation recruiting and building the right skills to manage the needs of the customer?

Culture is the building block to ensure your organisation is fit for purpose – not only in undergoing digital transformation but also for ensuring your organisation continues to remain relevant.

A recent article by Forrester heralded the arrival of “the age of the customer” and said brands will need to adapt their ways of thinking and working internally to ensure they remain relevant, trustworthy and authoritative to customers where brand loyalty is in decline. It needs a shift in focus for organisations away from the traditional marketing mix and towards the customer mix as defined by Practicology.

The multi-channel and e-commerce consultancy recently identified the need for more organisations to shift their customer to the centre of their strategies by creating the Customer Mix Framework, otherwise known as the 6 Ws.

marketing mix customer mix

As Practicology states: “Within the classic marketing mix framework, people refers to how the organisation plans to use its people within the framework”.

To succeed in a digital future, the people element needs to be fundamentally repositioned as the guardian of the voice of the customer. The digital landscape has fragmented the traditional channels to drive reach and awareness of your brand, removing the barriers.

Managing the digital skills gap

What’s becoming ever more clear for organisations is the need to address the people question, specifically around a changing workplace. The recent release of the UK government's digital strategy shines a light on the fact that within 20 years 90% of all jobs will require some element of digital skills. To ensure your organisation is fit for purpose, it’s essential to benchmark how adaptive it is in embracing employees with digital skillsets.

A changing workplace is central to influencing a changing culture. And more importantly, a culture that bridges the gap between what customers want and how to make this happen by building the right digital strategy.

Organisations are currently undergoing a fundamental shift from how they were traditionally structured to a structure that embraces a digital-first culture. Frederic Lalloux’s book, Reinventing Organisations, splits organisational evolution into five distinct categories:

human collaboration

A number of organisations still operate in the amber and orange zones, a command and control culture where employees are identified by their job title and their place within the organisational hierarchy. Targets are introduced to teams and organisational departments are expected to achieve in line with organisational expectations.

Where once the skills required were to keep your head down, follow an instruction manual and not ask questions, thankfully these are being replaced by skills such as taking the initiative, taking the lead and not being afraid to try new opportunities. The connection economy offers us all an alternative to having to follow the tribe and there is an opportunity to find our own path and our own voice.

Age of the employee

This is moving us to a new era known as the age of the employee – a process where the more innovative organisations will be realising their biggest asset is their workforce and seeking to understand how to nurture, develop and mentor their own employees while at the same time reinventing how they attract new talent.

Referring back to Lalloux’s changing workplace framework, we are also seeing the emergence of teal organisations with a culture of less hierarchy and where the focus is on deploying key individuals based on their expertise, passion or interest – regardless of where they fit on the organisation hierarchy.

For organisations to take advantage, they need to better understand their own workforce expertise and interests. This is more to do with their mindset rather than measuring and monitoring the impact of an employee based purely on their respective skillset.

Dr Tim Sparkes, business psychologist of Hudson Talent Management, has identified that organisations can gain a competitive advantage from identifying and deploying key individuals with the right mindset, and that there are several elements for organisations to build their cultural mindset through: conceptual thinking, collaboration, communication, intuition and being socially confident

He says: “With every indication that the workplace will continue to accelerate and fragment, mindset is entering centre stage in defining talent for an unknown future. Of course, skills are critical to do a job but identifying individuals with the right mindset to navigate business transformation and disruption, and to quickly learn and deploy new skills, will – or already is – the key to competitive advantage in a world that is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous at its heart.”

Together with a change in cultural mindset, organisations are also seeing a change in working patterns and ways of working such as:

1. Portfolio careers: a growing trend of the workforce taking on multiple part-time jobs rather than working on a traditional full-time job.

2. On-demand economy: stemming from the 'portfolio career culture' is the growth in workforce on-demand, defined as providing opportunities for more flexibility and for individuals to treat their profession on a project-by-project basis. According to this article by Recruitment International, by 2025 38% of the UK’s workforce will be part of the on-demand workforce

3. New ways of learning: the critical areas for employees to develop their skills and competencies will be around: conceptual thinking, collaboration, communication, intuition and being socially confident – skills that again compliment the growing on demand economy and more importantly are geared towards individuals attitude and mindset, not necessarily focusing on specific siloed skillsets

The workplace is changing away from the corporate hierarchy and towards employees building career portfolios and building a wider range of skillsets. Organisations need to change how they reward and identify their employees as well as how they determine what talent is needed and how they go about attracting and retaining the people with the right skills.

Focus on real skills

Seth Godin's recently published Linchpin championed the move for more organisations to recruit linchpins, defined as “people who don’t shirk responsibility....they are connectors, people with insights, folks who never seem to lose hope.”

Godin recently followed up with this great article on the need to place greater value in what we've traditionally called soft skills (such as working in teams, inspiring others, caring and being willing to change things).

These are skills that are hard to measure in the more traditional sense but are vital for the future of your organisation.

Simon Swan is head of digital marketing at the Met Office and is writing in a personal capacity. Follow him on Twitter @swanny_s

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