Project Management

How to Drive a New Culture to Embrace the Digital Age

From the Shifting Change: Insider Tips from Project Leaders Blog
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Today's world is influenced by change. Project managers and their organizations need to embrace and sometimes drive changes to keep up with the pace in highly competitive environments. In this blog, experienced professionals share their experiences, tips and tools to manage and exploit changes and take advantage of them. The blog is complimentary to the webinar series of the Change Management Community Team and is managed by the same individuals.

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In the last two weeks, both Pier 1 and JC Penney announced bankruptcies, no doubt partially brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, but both organizations have been hurting for a long time. Macy’s and Sears are closing more stores; the latter barely holding on by a thread. Even Walmart and Walgreen’s have announced they will close stores. Brick and mortar are giving way to the digital age. Amazon continues to grow at breakneck speed. Over ten years, Amazon’s revenue has increased about 12 times, whereas Target Stores’ revenue has increased about 1.2 times.


When we look at the retail industry specifically, and others more generally, it’s clear that traditional organizational structures are falling short. They are unable to keep pace with the demands of the digital economy.


The advancement of the Internet over the past two decades has taught us that we must run our organizations differently for our businesses to thrive, and perhaps even survive. This digital transformation is inevitable. To successfully move into the future, leaders need to strike a balance between organizational hierarchy and cross-functional coordination. While there still needs to be accountability for results, organizations need to be able to move faster to achieve these results.


In the late 1800s, Fredrick Taylor pioneered the idea of specialization to speed production. This specialization drove greater efficiency and productivity as organizations invested heavily in projects to streamline operations. Yet this specialization also drove hierarchical adherence which in turn promoted cross-functional dysfunction – especially during times of change. If leaders wanted to deploy a new product design or improve business processes across the organization, they ran into huge amounts of resistance. This led to lots of failure of organizations to achieve results in desired time frames, if at all.


This means that organizations must reduce their dependence on hierarchical adherence and drive more toward teams that work more effectively cross-functionally. People in these organizations must operate at higher levels of cross-functional collaboration, requiring greater trust, healthy dissent, and greater ability to engage in informal accountability.


This starts at the top. The leader of the organization must be willing to give up traditional command and control in favor of a more facilitative approach. She must be passionate about her organization’s mission, must be humble, and must demonstrate greater trust and willingness to engage in healthy dissent. Further, she holds her leadership team accountable to collaborate cross-functionally and promotes and models the idea that employees across the organization work together to drive these outcomes and are willing to challenge each other to do so.


This article is the subject of my upcoming online seminar, How to Drive a New Culture to Embrace the Digital Age, sponsored by the Project Management Institute. Click here for more info.


Posted by Steve Salisbury on: May 29, 2020 09:17 AM | Permalink

Comments (5)

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Thank you for sharing, Steve. I believe that fostering learning environment across an organisation is one of the most important ways to embrace the digital age.

Very informative and interesting. Thanks for sharing. Looking forward to your seminar.

Change mindsets and cultures are things that take time, involve emotions, relationships, standard practices, the human nature is not ready to evolve the culture at the same pace of the digital and technological evolution.
Sure you can plant the seeds but must be prepared to wait for the germination and growth, is easier to evolve the culture of younger generations than the current ones.

Do you really think that we will be capable to evolve culture at the same pace as the digital transformation, as a side note digital transformation is progressing faster every year.

Thanks for sharing your opinions
Alexandre Costa.

Responding to Alexandre. Thanks for your comment. You are absolutely right about changing culture and mindsets takes time. I believe the speed of adoption of cultural change is directly proportional to the people skills of the leader. The better the leader(s), the faster the change. Of course that's where I come in to help executives who are willing to recognize they may not have all the answers and are humble enough to seek help. I also believe that it's not a race - meaning I don't think cultural change has to keep up with technology change. I think cultural change needs to keep up with the economy of the industry in which the organization competes. As an example, Amazon sets the pace for on-line shopping. If you expect to compete head-on with Amazon, then your organization needs to have as strong or stronger culture than Amazon. That's the competition. Thanks again for your comment - it's a thought provoking discussion.

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