Digital first


15th July, 2022

Building a digital-first culture in 6 steps

A digital revolution is possible in your organisation. Start with these six steps to radically shift your culture towards digital-first thinking.

With remote work options becoming a necessity and customer expectations changing faster than ever, companies need to rethink their approach to digital or risk being left behind. So what’s holding them back?

According to a recent McKinsey study, it’s culture that doesn’t allow for a digital-by-default way of working. Cultural red flags include functional and departmental silos, a fear of taking risks and difficulty forming a single view of the customer.

McKinsey researchers show a correlation between these cultural attributes and negative commercial outcomes. That’s why shifting away from them shouldn’t be looked at as a disruption but rather an opportunity to rectify previous shortcomings in culture, improve efficiency and keep up with competitors. These will benefit your organisation on multiple levels, not just in building a digital-first strategy.

The barriers to building a digital-first strategy

In a digital-first strategy, business operations are, by default, performed digitally. Ashley Friedlein, founder of Econsultancy, adds more depth:
“It’s the journey towards being a digital organisation where ‘digital’ means two things: firstly, focusing on the customer experience irrespective of channel and secondly, having a digital culture.”

But many businesses – especially those already well-established – face barriers to becoming digital-first and, generally, that can be put down to culture. Even if an organisation has invested in the latest digital platforms, a lack of motivation, innovation or collaboration can hold you back.

Too risk-averse

It makes sense that if company leadership is too risk-averse, it’ll be slow to try new technologies and tends to stick with the ‘tried-and-true’. That, in the fast-moving digital world, often also means the ‘slow-and-unwieldy’.

With more openness to failure, leaders can test new and potentially risky technologies fast.

A mismatched view of the customer

Bringing customers into the digital ecosystem is core to a digital-first strategy, but many organisations simply don’t have the information they need to do that well. And that’s an issue – customers now expect best-in-class experiences on and off-line, with fast responses, customisation and seamless service.

If your organisation doesn’t have the unified data of customer journeys, needs and expectations, it’s only guesswork as to what would suit them best.

When you can make decisions based on real information, you can help build your customer needs into the fabric of your operations.

Disconnected departments

The disconnect between different areas of your business has always caused inefficiencies. This is amplified in the digital age.

When your organisation is siloed, you’re too late to tackle opportunities or red flags and may miss them altogether. This is often simply because they were seen by the wrong part of the company.

When information flows seamlessly in well-integrated systems from one end of the business to another, your people and departments automatically align priorities and can make decisions based on a holistic view of the company and customer.

How to create a digital-first business in 6 steps

Counterintuitively, creating a digital-first strategy is really about changing your culture, not just installing new technology. But it takes deliberate effort to shift your internal culture to be more responsive to customers, more willing to take risks and better connected between departments – it won’t happen organically.

The following steps are designed to show a path forward when it comes to shifting your business’s culture towards a more digital-first way of thinking. It may not happen immediately, but pursuing these items will help you continue iterating for the future.

1. Build an appetite for calculated risks

With the right information, training and support, your people will have the confidence to make great decisions and take calculated risks. It’s also important for leaders to unlock access to resource, celebrate learning from failure and then – get out of the way.

2. Put customer needs and habits at the centre

By placing the customer at the core of business operations, organisations de-risk product development while tightening relationships.

Cultural change, of course, is critical but must be supported with the right tools and data to deliver a full picture of the customer.

3. Embrace digital objectives

Your digital-first strategy must be underpinned with bold targets that align with company goals and values. These should be established in collaboration with employees. Then, leaders should set an example by living the values, monitoring progress and measuring success along the way.

4. Connect the right data to the right decisions

Companies need to make a conscious effort to base decisions on data, not just intuition – and to do it, you need that data to hand. Do your systems allow that information to be easily collected and analysed?

5. Burst silos

Creating a shared vision can help break barriers between groups and encourage a team mentality.

Instead of focusing on what individual departments need to achieve, employees can understand how they each contribute to ongoing growth and success. This will improve the effectiveness of all technology onboarded.

6. Instil accountability

By avoiding micromanaging, encouraging risk and defining roles clearly, leaders can instil a sense of accountability.

A workforce of employees who are accountable for their decisions and actions gives everyone a stake in the success of decisions.

New technology is not enough

In today’s market, a digital-first strategy is essential to remain competitive, but that must be grounded in an internal culture designed to support it.

Any disconnect between silos or with customers, hesitancy around risk assessment or lack of accountability will throw up barriers that even the best technology won’t overcome.

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