‘From Goldman to Google’: Culture change in a Digital Economy

A recent workshop with a team from the UK’s leading specialist resourcing and consultancy firm in governance, compliance and complaints has got us thinking about the issue of how to go about changing an organisation’s culture.

Much in the way that IT has come out of its separate ‘tech’ sphere, and taken a seat at the boardroom table in recognition of its new role as a key driver of business strategy in a digital economy, culture too must be recognised as integral to delivering business strategy.

There are lots of ways to approach culture change, and to sustain at least the superficial appearance of change. But real change – the kind that embeds itself in an organisation – is another matter, especially when grappling with a legacy of past and present culture that doesn’t want to die.

There are also different approaches to embedding culture change: are you, for example, a ‘Catholic’, or a ‘Buddhist’? In other words: do you use strict rituals to embed compliance, or do you teach the principles, and then let the individual interpret them according to his or her judgement? It’s a strategic choice that all organisations must make, but which few ever get round to facing, or even acknowledging.

On the one hand, it’s down to people, not the firm, to differentiate their offerings; tone of communication and attitude of staff will set a company apart. But firms that are subject to strict sector regulations can’t just let staff relax and wing it – or even allow salespeople to phrase things in a friendlier and less ‘legal’ way. This constraint bumps up against the public’s desire to interact with their service organisations in a way that’s appropriate for now, and not for 20 years ago.

So, you have to embed change, regulation processes, and system frameworks together. And you can’t map it; you must adapt to it. In other words, you have to consider the ‘people’ aspect of culture change alongside the system aspect. Culture is intertwined with leadership and strategy; in isolation, culture is meaningless.

Ultimately, however, the real question is: What are you trying to achieve as a firm, and how is this best served? Once this is answered, you can tune your organisation’s culture to a particular key. The tricky task of identifying priorities means sidelining some important goals, but in the process you will find out what kind of organisation you really want to be.

Is your business culture fit for purpose? Or is there a misalignment that could be holding you back? Join us as we explore this key issue, and help us shape the conversation.

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About the Author : Kris Henley

Communications and Outreach for Surrey Business School's Centre for the Digital Economy, a newly-founded research centre to explore the implications of the Digital Economy for business, government and society.