Business, at its heart, is about adopting and adapting, and digital transformation gives you the tools to do just that in a world that’s increasingly cyber-based. It transforms your customer experience, drives insights, and encourages collaboration.

The only problem? Many businesses are starting their transformation on the wrong foot, or hobbling their transformation from the start. They think that digital transformation starts with turning an eye to tech, when in reality, the roots of digital transformation are more human: culture.

Transformation Begins with Culture

All successful digital transformations have their roots in culture. That might seem counterintuitive, considering how much digital transformation relies on boxes (or the cloud).

But at the heart of it, culture is what allows technology to take root and thrive.

Organizational culture refers to the rules and values that define how things get done in your company. A strong culture provides a working guideline for employee behavior while ensuring that everyone stays oriented toward the overall company goal.

Without Digital Culture, Your Transformation Risks Failure

And without a strong organizational culture to reinforce your digital transformation goal, your transformation is unlikely to make it off the ground.

In fact, companies who focused on culture were five times more likely to sustain financial breakthroughs and nearly 80% of companies who focused on culture sustained breakthrough performance over time.

Why does this happen?

For one thing, a strong culture empowers your team to deliver real results. It gives them what they need to make decisions in real-time and stay focused on the customer rather than guessing what the boss wants. More than that, it’s positive reinforcement as the transformation progresses.

Strong culture allows you to show employees that, whatever direction the company might take, you fully intend to bring the whole team with you.

Digital Culture Attracts Talent

A strong culture going into a transformation doesn’t just help you keep your best talent. It also helps attract the talent you need to sustain your transformation for years to come.

This is in part due to the millennial majority that’s shaping corporate cultures around the world. Millennials value culture more than any generation before them, to the point that they’re willing to take $7,600 less in pay each year if they could work at a company whose environment is a better fit for them.

You may be able to attract young workers at first with the promise of digital transformation, but young workers are sending a clear message: unless you can follow through with culture, they won’t be willing to take the job.

Core Elements of Digital Culture

Think of digital culture as a type of high-performance culture. Employees in this type of culture are highly engaged, not just with their work but with each other. Because of this, they’re willing to go above and beyond to achieve the company’s goals.

This is reinforced by the organizational environment, which is deliberately structured to foster these behaviors. Managers further reinforce the trend by rewarding this type of behavior when they see it.

As a rule, this type of environment prioritizes delegation over control because management knows employees can be trusted to make solid decisions in support of company goals. More to the point, employees don’t need rigorous rules and supervision – they follow guiding principles set by the company to reach the right conclusion.

Because of this, the organization as a whole is more agile, willing to promote boldness over caution because it knows its people can be trusted to deliver results. More action, less planning is the name of the game.

This is why culture is a high priority in digital transformation – all of these qualities are essential for teams undergoing rapid change if they are to adapt successfully.

Preparing Your Digital Culture

How do you prepare your company’s culture for a digital transformation? Or even develop a strong enough culture to sustain transformation when it arrives?

It all starts with a bit of planning, careful definition of what matters most, and strong leadership.

Articulate Change

First, if you want to create change within your organization, you have to articulate what you want that change to be.

Specifically, you have to articulate what you want that change to be and how your employees’ behaviors feed into them. Be crystal clear about what behavior matters and reward behavior based on those guidelines.

To do this, leaders need to define the characteristics of their desired digital culture based on the company’s goals. Be precise in your language – employee interactions with customers and even other coworkers are less face-to-face than they used to be, which means you need to translate specific behaviors so employees know what rules they need to follow.

From the Top

This also involves a strong element of leading from the top – i.e. creating transformation at the top of your organization and leading by example.

In other words, it’s not enough to simply approve transformation initiatives. You need to actively take part in implementing them, showing employees that the changes apply to leadership just as much as the average employee.

Remember, the goal is not to deploy technology for technology’s sake, nor is your goal to pass dogma to employees. Your goal is to shift the way that your company thinks about problems and, in the process, enable your company to affect real change in the way you approach digital business.

Making Digital Transformation Possible

At the end of the day, digital transformation doesn’t come from technology or experts. It starts from within a company with a simple commitment to building a culture that supports employees and encourages innovation. It starts with embracing the human element of digital transformation.

After that, your organization will have what it needs to implement technology, not as a crutch but as a tool that genuinely supports growth and allows you to remain competitive in the digital landscape, no matter where your transformation takes you. And wherever it takes you, always know that Making Sense is here for you, with insightful posts to get you thinking about your own transformation journey. Check back often for new posts each week, here on the Making Sense Blog.