Workplace Culture and Digital Transformation

Employers invest significant resources into tech­nology, hoping to improve productivity, maintain a competitive edge, and meet customer needs. Yet a gap often exists between actual versus desired outcomes promised by the adopted technologies. Why is this?

Culture in the workplace, the very low-tech interac­tions between employees, accounts for some of the gap. Research published in the summer 2019 MIT Sloan Review identifies characteristics of “pre-digi­tal” workplace cultures such as:

  • Integrity and honesty
  • Stability and predictability
  • Conformity and obedience

Such characteristics evolved over decades in a pre-digital economy, and served organiza­tions well; some, such as integrity and stability, still possess value. However, in a rapid­ly-evolving digital world, this research identifies four key values of “Digital Cultures” that traditional cultures should embrace to remain viable:

  • Impact: innovate to create radical change
  • Speed: create and test innovations
  • Openness: seek diverse sources of information
  • Autonomy: empower employees with high discretional authority to act

Cultures that adopt digital values may foster effective relationships between employees, unleash the true potential of investments in technology, and provide options to manage a multitude of other important issues related to the tech-infused workplace.* The research concludes that by combining traditional values such as integrity and stability with these new digital values, organizations of any size, age, and scope can operate more effectively in the digital world.

For an organization to successfully transform from a traditional to a digital culture, leader­ship is needed. At first glance, it may seem IT leaders are the best choice as they possess the technical know-how. Yet they may lack the people savvy. HR leaders, strong in knowledge of human potential, typically lack adequate technical skills. To lead this digital transforma­tion, traditional organizational silos of expertise and assumed responsibilities must crum­ble. Given the complexity of digital challenges, a culture that invites partnership between HR and IT is needed to balance the technology and people dimensions. These basic steps can help:

  • Meet on a regular basis to develop positive working relationships
  • Consult on new initiatives that combine technology and people
  • Speak the same language–make an effort to avoid jargon
  • Adopt a learning mentality to overcome traditional boundaries
  • Align around the organization’s Vision, Mission, and Values

*An IT/HR strategic partnership supports a culture that can effectively manage other chal­lenges related to digital transformation, such as:

  • Cybersecurity: Sophisticated state-sponsored cyber hackers threaten all organi­zations, including smaller businesses at risk due to their lack of awareness and resources. Employee screening, onboarding and training (HR) form an essential defense to supplement cyber security software (IT).
  • Compliance: Employers’ legal responsibilities for the use of digital technology is evolving at the state, federal, and international levels. Policies and practices regard­ing employee communications and behaviors, as well as privacy issues, must be carefully monitored to achieve both lawful compliance and organizational effec­tiveness (HR). Systems must be carefully vetted, installed and maintained to avoid non-compliance (IT).

Employers Council offers members the expertise and workplace interventions needed to successfully build a more effective workplace culture. For assistance with the research sources used in this article, please contact .