It is undeniable – digital is having an enormous impact on the world in which we live.   Our world is more mobile, virtual and visual than ever before.  The evolving landscape of ICT and technology has had a dramatic impact on both our home and business worlds and organisations like yours need to empower their people with todays technologies, strategies and platforms which are essential for success.

Digital transformation is already happening and whether you like it or not, digital has completely changed the way customers make their decisions and purchases.  Online, information whips around quicker than ever before, and if an experience with your brand is not up to customer standards or expectations, they’ll be quick to throw you to the kerb and move on to a better option.

The question is how does your organisation respond to all this disruption when many of your competitors already have a large head start on you or start up organisations are disrupting a once-predictable marketplace.  The days of intuition and opinions are over – to be truly successful in the digital world, your organisation must be basing forward strategies on data driven facts and figures. What you would have done yesterday will not cut it tomorrow.

All too often I see organisations charging off on digital transformation initiatives with no strategy in place or any idea of what their strategic endpoint looks like.  They typically focus on an inside/out approach and sadly, 75% of these activities fail.  Scary, I know but the main reason they fail is not because the initiatives are flawed, rather because the organisation is not prepared to change behaviour.  When business pour all of their digital transformation focus into “tools and tech” in the belief that this is all that is needed to bring about change, they are often surprised when this investment fails to make an impact.

The endpoint should be simple: give your users an experience that not only meets their needs, but engages, delights and makes them want to become a raving fan (tell other people about it). However, the reality is very different as brands struggle to provide even adequate digital experiences, caught up instead in their own procedures and bureaucracy and the desire to focus on what they want to say rather than what users want to hear.

It is my experience, that many organisations, understandably, are still a little confused about where to start their digital journey and whilst the digital landscape is changing quickly a half-hearted effort is not going to cut it.  Sorry to be so blunt but you either have to be on the bus or off it!

As digital leaders, we know that people are at the core of purchasing the goods and services we sell and similarly in the delivery of them. Real transformation can’t happen without them.  So when you’re looking from the inside of your organisation – out, it is most important to prepare your people for the change that is going to occur. Empowering people through change rather than forcing it upon them should be how your business prepares your people for transformation.

Therefore, as it is usually one of the biggest blockers to transformation, internal culture is the best place to start your transformation journey. A siloed, competitive, or risk-averse culture prevents innovation and change, and ultimately leads to failure of a digital transformation project. Many organisations are still operating with the same structures, systems and processes and hierarchies that were created during the industrial revolution when our environments didn’t really change that much.  But the digital revolution demands that organisations not only need to change but also become more agile for future disruption.

Many organisations launch into what I call the ‘let it be so’ syndrome, meaning that they think that by making an announcement to the effect of ‘ok people, as of tomorrow we are going digital’ that staff members are just going to file onto the bus, two by two like they were boarding the ark, without any questions or concerns.  In fact the exact opposite happens, usually resulting in the vast majority of staff retreating to their respective bunkers and blocking the entrance!  At that point, most leaders haven’t even recognised what’s happened or if they have, they are left scratching their heads as to what to do next.

It is clear then that a new approach to cultural change is required. We should learn from those that have come before us, for example Buckminster Fuller who is famously quoted as saying ‘You never change things by fighting the existing reality’. This is where cultural hacking comes into play.

To be a hacker of any kind is to always seek change whether it be perceived as either positive, negative or both. Personally, I don’t like the word ‘change’ in the context of culture because of its ability to trigger wide and often opposing attitudes and ideas. Hacking in its generic term, as most of us understand, it supports the idea of emergence –  whereby something new and quite possibly inventive is brought to the table from the personal interactions of individuals and their activities. Organised “hackathons”, official settings that encourage and recognize hacking as an official activity are democratic by nature, lean and agile in process and visionary in the sense that they foster invention and encourage disruption of firmly held beliefs. By their very nature, hackathons operate on a premise of “less is more” using limited resources, small teams and quite often little to no funding.

Culture hacking is about finding the sweet spots where a small change can have a big impact – quickly and sustainably. In short, to ‘hack’ something is to build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete. It’s about creating new norms and developing new muscle memory to shift to a people driven and customer centric business model.   Only when you have consensus across departments to the vision, do you have a business that is ready to scale.

So if you are considering going down the path of producing a digital strategy or a digital transformation initiative – here is a word of advice – it is critical to get your people aligned to the broader vision, direction and action in order to successfully move the organisation from where it is today, to where it needs to be in the future.