Digital transformation: companies need a culture of change

Change is not a project, but the new normal. But many companies still lack the culture to live it in everyday life.

Welcome to the VUCA world: Companies experience many uncertainties to which they have to find permanent answers. And they often have to say goodbye to supposed certainties. This is easier in a corporate culture that sees change as a normal state and as an everyday task for each individual. The experiences from the Lockdown are a good starting point for working toward this goal.

The lockdown during the Corona pandemic created a huge real-life laboratory: companies had to reorganize themselves due to contact restrictions, many employees were in their home offices for months, team meetings and visits from customers only took place virtually. For many companies, this situation was a litmus test: Most solved the immediate technical and organizational challenges relatively quickly – but is their corporate culture also fit for the new normal?

By corporate culture, I don’t mean whether you wear a suit or shorts, whether you’re on a first-name basis or a first-name basis. For me, corporate culture in this context means how adaptable an organization is and how it deals with uncertainty and change. Because companies will continue to face uncertainties like those caused by the pandemic in the future. The question is: How prepared are they for it?

Companies are complex entities with many official rules and even more informal customs.

Contingency plans and emergency scenarios may help in a specific case. They are the script according to which one acts in exceptional situations. But how successfully a company masters critical phases is determined by its culture. And this culture can only develop in day-to-day business, because even in day-to-day business, companies must constantly question themselves and change. Welcome to the VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous)! If you want to move successfully in this world, it is best to do so in many small, quick steps – and always make sure that the path you have taken is still the right one.

Defining the big vision and the strategic goal and making them tangible are the tasks of management. Only employees, regardless of their function, can bring both to life. To do this, they must learn to move as safely as possible in the VUCA world. Leadership, in turn, must not only allow this, but actively promote and exemplify it. In this way, the resilience of the organization grows over time: its susceptibility to disruptions and external influences decreases.

It’s about courage and openness, about making mistakes and learning

Change is not a project, just as the move of the masses to the home office may have been from an operational perspective. In the same way, the associated digitization is not purely a technology issue. In both cases, it is primarily about attitude, a mindset shared by all. This also includes the willingness to say goodbye to supposed certainties.

It is about courage and openness, about the willingness to admit mistakes and make them, about cooperation across organizational boundaries and hierarchical levels, about iterative trial and error, about a new understanding of leadership and new forms of decision-making. And much more. Companies therefore need a culture that understands change as a normal state and as an everyday task for each individual. They need a culture of change.

How successfully a company masters even critical phases is determined by its culture.

That sounds easy. But the way to get there is not. Companies with 100 employees at the latest are complex entities with many official rules and even more informal customs, with evolved structures and hierarchies, with more or less transparency and permeability. Customer-centeredness and agile working, iterative procedures, collaboration and co-creation are good approaches to sustainably develop an organization and lead to more resilience.

I have experienced and shaped the transformation of companies in various roles and functions – as an employee, as a line manager and in staff positions, as an interim manager, as a project manager, as an external consultant, as a works council chairman and as a data protection officer.

This makes it all the more important to find a way to deal with uncertainty

What I learned in the process? There is never just one truth, just as there is never just one perspective. Every employee, every team, every department, every location, every country, every culture, every hierarchical level, every level of experience and every function not only has a very real different perception, but will also experience every change in everyday life very differently. This leads to uncertainty and often doubt.

The uncertainties do not diminish. It is all the more important to find a way to deal with them and to shape them actively and with self-confidence. Finding this way is the task of the entire company, for all employees and managers. And the still fresh experiences from the lockdown are a good starting point to begin with.

Martin Gutheil hat als Experte für Markenstrategie und digitale Transformation sowohl die Unternehmens- wie die Beraterseite kennengelernt. Seit 20 Jahren begleitet er die Veränderung von Unternehmen strategisch und operativ und unterstützt sie bei der Positionierung.

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