Last week, we talked about how the role of the CIO is changing in pursuit of Digital Transformation and with it the key performance indicators to measure their effectiveness and contributions to the company’s bottom line. But this tectonic shift isn’t happening in a vacuum — it requires an organizational change, or culture shift, to be successful.

If this is something new to you, you aren’t alone. At the recent Gartner Symposium 2018, many attendees were surprised to hear that a non-traditional technology topic was given top billing in several of the messages: the importance of corporate culture!

Far from being a term relegated to the Chief Human Resources Officer, corporate culture is increasingly becoming a way for CIOs to drive lasting change within the organization. Finding ways to hack their corporate culture to blast through barriers to digital transformation is a topic that proved fascinating to attendees:

Even the keynote addressed the concept of Continuous Next — a new digital business model that shows how culture, privacy, and product management are helping to enable organizations to undertake transformative change. The desire to please others, big egos, self-doubt, and fear of failure were a few of the “enemies of innovation” that were pointed out during the keynote:

Below are some tips on how to overcome this hurdle and instead turn your corporate culture into a driver for innovation and Digital Transformation:

Reducing Internal Politics

Tiptoeing around the true issues may be a good political decision in some organizations, but it’s also a surefire way to reduce the effectiveness of leadership and the teams that work for them. The continuous introduction of the next big thing can be wearying to businesses who are not yet ready to face the reality of fundamental change.

Internal politics have a way of slowing down new initiatives, creating a culture of risk-averse individuals who are frightened of offering new ideas and innovation for consideration due to the potential political backlash. When internal politics are reduced, team members and leaders alike are more willing to take leaps into the digital world — effectively driving their business forward and improving the corporate culture.

Alignment with Senior Management

While some culture change can be affected starting at lower levels of the organization, the best way to accelerate a shift in the way people treat innovation is to start at the top. Senior management must be leading by example and showing their teams that alignment within the executive ranks helps to gain the needed support for digital transformation projects.

Employees are often resistant to change and unwilling to revamp their processes in a way that will positively impact the business. Making digital transformation one of the key company values can help to slowly unstick the culture and help to speed the adoption of new technology and ways of doing business.

Adding Flexibility and Trust

Part of the challenge with a culture shift is that it can be insidious. Even when you think you’re making inroads in one department, a different group may be tangentially eroding your efforts as soon as you turn your focus away. Creating an atmosphere of trust and introducing an added layer of flexibility to the organization can go a long way towards creating a space for the vulnerability that individuals need in order to unleash innovation and creativity.

Start with a small pilot program where you’re able to tightly control the experiment and foster that culture of agility and willingness to fail. Once others throughout the organization are able to see the success that can come from a shift in mindset, they are more likely to be willing to come alongside your digital transformation efforts.

Exceptional Communication

In the need for ongoing communication, CIOs could take a lesson from their associates in the marketing department. It’s not enough to simply announce that it’s now okay to fail. Employees need to hear an ongoing mantra that appropriate risks are acceptable and that a failure will not mean the end of their career within the organization.

The cultural conservatism that is often found in large organizations can be one of the biggest barriers to lasting change, and one that can be the most difficult to overcome. A leadership team that is truly risk-averse may find that they need to step outside their comfort zone in order to provide a high level of communication required for a cultural change initiative to gain long-term success.

Shifting your corporate culture is not a task that will be achieved overnight, and the shift can take several years to truly become gelled within the organization. It also requires ongoing tweaks and mental re-investments from key leadership staff. When CIOs become corporate cheerleaders for culture change, you’ll have one of the fastest routes to digital transformation.

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