Cultural Transformation: Developing resilience through Simplification, Speed and Sustainability

In the final part of this series on essential transformational strategies, we suggest that building a resilient culture is necessary to thrive in the face of inevitable change.



To quote Peter Drucker, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”.

Culture is not something soft and fluffy.

It is the consistent behaviours that an organisation’s people exhibit.

In the first article in this series, Digital Transformation: Driving Innovation, Creating Adaptability and Developing Resilience, we concluded that there are three essential transformational strategies.

By embracing the first transformation you begin to reinforce – or perhaps develop – an innovation culture that is market-focused and blends art and science.

The second creates adaptability, develops an appreciation of the power of blending people and platforms.

It also drives collaboration – both internally and externally.

Developing those behaviours and that sort of culture would be on most CEO’s wish list.

But today a culture must also be resilient, in order to not only surf the waves of business and technology change but to thrive despite the inevitable changes in leadership over time.

Developing this third transformation, to organisation resilience, requires a focus on three factors. And the first is simplification.

Simplification creates focus

Steve Jobs said: “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”

He was right, but unfortunately people – especially smart people – seem to have a natural aversion to things that are simple.

However, driving toward simplification becomes an imperative when dealing with business and technological change, else you wind up with complication, chaos and cost.

A lot of complexity comes from a lack of understanding, flawed assumptions or fuzzy objectives – so the most critical behaviour in driving simplification is to ask questions.

Fortunately, what we’ve discussed earlier supports the process of simplification. For example, design thinking and data analytics help develop clarity with respect to market needs. Platforms can turn complex technology into simply consumed services.

And the right people – and leaders – can cut through to the core of issues and resolve them.

If you’ve ever been in an executive role, you probably know that the Pareto principle (the 80/20 rule) is not an urban myth.

Focusing on simplification will help get to the 20% that makes the greatest contribution, will reduce costs and free up resources better used elsewhere.

Equally as important, a deliberate focus on simplification is also a prerequisite for embracing the second factor: speed.

Speed creates impact

Focusing on speed is not always about being the fastest; it’s about moving at a tempo that is appropriate to your market, your organisation and the wave you’re riding. The quest for speed in business has become a bit of a cliché – mainly thanks to all the books written about start-ups and start-up cultures.

Just as an aside, I’ve met lots of entrepreneurs, but very few who actually set out with failing – fast or otherwise – as an objective.

However, I don’t think I’ve met any of them who didn’t have a real sense of urgency about being aware of and improving the tempo of their business. And they all have a willingness to move away from industry norms or ‘best practice’ when required to overcome whatever was slowing down their progress.

The important thing is to get faster and better at the things that matter to the success of the business. That’s usually the 20% that delivers the most value for your customers and your organisation. The rest of the organisation then needs to be tuned so that the speed they operate at doesn’t inhibit progress.

So it’s really important to become sensitive to the speed bumps and deal with them. If not well managed, the gap between fast and slow will cause a lot of frustration and problems. Hence the rise of the two-speed or bi-modal organisation, the emergence of DevOps and the rise of agile development.

So ‘speed’ involves being sensitive to the tempo of your business, working on upping that tempo as required to ride your wave and managing the slower bits so they don’t drag you under.

It allows you to create impact and, most importantly, develop a sense of urgency about jumping on the next attractive wave of change.

Being prepared to make that jump also requires thinking in terms of sustainability.

Sustainability creates a future.

Sustainability is a broad topic, but basically it means doing things today with an eye to the future – so that the organisation is around to ride more and bigger waves of change.

That balanced view is really necessary, because one of the unintended consequences of the ascendency of the digital agenda to the C-Suite can be a sense of panic, which then drives frenzied but unfocused activity down through the levels.

The result can be wasted effort, lost opportunity and damaged careers.

We discuss sustainability last because the unfortunate – and avoidable – reality of thinking like a start-up is that most start-ups fail.

As mentioned earlier, failure – fast or slow – is not a great thing to aspire to if it can be avoided. If not, by all means learn the lesson and move on.

Much better to build a culture that considers both the short and long term when engaging with its marketplace, developing its people, deploying its platforms and choosing its partners.

And also when choosing the next wave to ride as you continue to create the future.

Editor’s Note: This is the last article in a four-part series on achieving digital transformation. The other articles in the series are:

Overview: Digital Transformation: Driving Innovation, Creating Adaptability and Developing Resilience

Market Transformation: Innovation through Design, Data and Devices

Organisational Transformation: Building an adaptive organisation through Platforms, People and Partnerships

Further Reading