Culture emerges from what we do, how we work and how we socialise. Some organisations are now finding that, as technology increasingly influences our experiences in each of these spaces, it is also affecting culture in a fundamental way.
As we adapt to a future where our work, leisure and social lives are immersed in technology, some companies are looking at ways to create a digital culture which is inclusive and enhances their organisation's values.
Ange Ferguson is the Asia Pacific Group Managing Director for tech consultancy ThoughtWorks.
She says some businesses are already managing the interface between culture and technology.
“We're beyond the starting point. Digital technology is already embedded in how our culture is evolving," says Ferguson.
Waves of Disruption
“We have seen several waves of technology-led disruption. These have included the automation of basic business processes as well as the rise of the internet – each of which has contributed to the way culture is evolving in the workplace," she adds.
In the 1970s and 1980s, workplace culture was disrupted by the automation of business processes. But while technologies like word processing and fax sped up business processes, they still played a support role and didn't fundamentally change workplace culture.
But the launch of the smartphone ten years ago saw technology have a more fundamental impact on workplace culture.
“The smartphone signalled the beginning of a new wave of technology that also includes big data, cloud computing and social media. Together these technologies have a far greater impact on how we work– and we're really only at the beginning," says Ferguson.
The routine use of search engines to instantly fact-check information is a good example of how our behaviour has fundamentally changed since the advent of smartphones – and how we now could make better-informed decisions.
Building cultural change through software
Against this backdrop, many CFOs are working through strategies that use technology to help build organisational culture.
Ami Cook is Chief Development Officer for MindNavig8or Technologies, which has built a software platform to enable cultural change across a business.
Cook agrees technology already builds culture in many businesses.
“Most organisations develop systems and technologies as a way of supporting processes, skills development and the way the work gets done," she says.
“But in many businesses, the way technology is approached doesn't tackle the more intangible aspects of organisational culture. These include psychology, relationships and social norms; the unwritten group rules that make up that cultural DNA," she says.
Cook says a better approach is to use tech to build culture by developing and changing how people think, feel and behave. This approach can offer scalability, cost-efficiency and consistency.
Successful cultural change is more likely when a whole-of-business approach is adopted, she says, and when there is good engagement at the executive level.
Cook advises CFOs to be wary of technology solutions purporting to embed cultural change if they don't enable learning, embed processes and change behaviours. “Technology needs to integrate this into the work environment," she says.
A tech implementation aiming to achieve cultural transformation should impact both the individual and collective level, she adds.
Cook cites a cultural change project she managed for the Melbourne office of a global technology firm. The 40-person office is a satellite of the business' Sydney headquarters and those in the Melbourne office felt they were operating separately from head office.
“Staff tended to focus on their own contributions rather than on collaborative, group outcomes. They were also finding it difficult to achieve a sense of purpose and connect to the organisation's vision," Cook explains.
She engaged a three-step process to turn around business culture in the Melbourne office.
In the first step, staff completed an online module to learn how to expand their perspective, develop self-awareness and self-mastery and become more conscious about how they operate in the business environment.
This stage of the process is aimed to change staff members' mindsets and their workplace behaviour.
The process involved an online questionnaire asking each staff member about their core values and motivations. This uncovers what's driving a person's behaviour at work.
Then, the team came together as a group to share their insights from Step One.
“Step Two deepens relationships with other people, which is part of how culture shifts," says Cook.
Through the process the team found, despite saying yes to customers' requests, they failed to meet their expectations.
The cultural change process involved recognising this and setting more realistic goals that the team could meet.
As a result, clients' expectations were better managed and the team avoided under-delivering against their promises.
In the final step, the learning from Stages One and Two is integrated.
Says Cook: “This process gives people a common language because everyone is going through the system together. The power of using technology is that it achieves consistency across the team."
Technology is exciting from a cultural point of view because it provides opportunities to reshape how we work.
“It's important to remember humans adjust to and normalise new technology fast. A good example is trying to remember how we worked and socialised without smart phones," says Ferguson
Technology allows us to automate simple or repeatable tasks, and instead focus on problem solving, judgement and experience.
The message for CFOs: if you take advantage of the all benefits technology offers, you may be able to build culture and enhance organisational effectiveness across vast distances.
- Digital technology has already impacted organisational culture.
- Technology provides opportunities to reshape how we work.
- Technology can integrate cultural change into a workplace by delivering learning, embedding processes and changing behaviours.
- Cultural transformation impacts both the individual and collective level.