Developing an Innovative Culture In a Digital Transformation Environment

Digital transformation environments can be enhanced where there is an innovation culture in place. This is because innovation requires trying new ideas that can lead to remarkable breakthroughs. Experimentation is a core component of innovation, and getting people to take risks in this way requires an innovative culture. This is particularly important within digital transformation environments, where competitive advantage can be achieved through innovative activities.

Changing organizational culture can be challenging, but it is not impossible. One of the challenges can be that people do not want to fix a situation that they do not consider to be broken. This means that the change needs to be clearly understood and communicated well and behaviour changed so that the change can be embraced. Here are some pointers I recommend to clients to help ensure they can develop an innovative culture in a digital transformation environment.

Leadership and Communication

For any change program to be successful, including developing an innovative culture, people need to understand why the change is important. This requires leadership clarity and good communication. Managers will need to explain what is done and why, and what that means for employees. This needs to be done clearly, and it may also need to happen in a variety of ways. Hearing a message repeatedly helps it sink in, and understanding why it reduces fear and resistance around the change.

Employees will invariably follow what the leadership does. Importantly the emphasis here is on “does.” What the leadership says will not matter if they do something different to that. Leaders need to talk the talk and walk the walk. This means that leaders need to be on board with the change to an innovative culture to aid the digital transformation. Staff will notice if a manager is saying one thing and doing something else, and they will copy what the leader does rather than what they say, as this demonstrates acceptable behaviour.

Engage Staff

If working towards building an innovative culture in a digital transformation environment, it is important to engage staff. It has been estimated and confirmed by numerous research studies that 70% of change efforts fail, and this is often in large part due to resistance of staff. It is important to find ways to overcome this resistance so that staff can become more innovative. This means finding out why resistance is occurring and taking steps to address it. Commonly in a digital environment, resistance may come about due to fear of new technology or a lack of security that could be caused by it, e.g., will I lose my job if this digital transformation is successful?

An innovative culture involves participation and collaborative working. If staff is not engaged with the move to an innovative culture, then the digital transformation program may not achieve everything it might otherwise have. However, resistance can be broken down by listening to staff and getting them involved with the change, encouraging cooperation in cross-functional teams. Ways of working need to encourage the generation of new ideas that can lead to innovation breakthroughs in the digital transformation environment.

Being Agile

Working towards agile ways of doing things can also help develop an innovative culture for digital transformation environments. Agile working represents taking a flexible approach towards activities and continually looking at ways to improve. This allows people to take unconventional approaches were needed to bring about a breakthrough and step back quickly if a particular innovation is not working. Importantly, this allows quicker delivery of results than they might otherwise have been by not remaining wed to ideas that are not working.

Embrace Conflict — to a point

Innovation means coming up with new ideas, which can only be achieved if people are comfortable with conflict because not everyone will agree with one another all of the time. Diverse teams, in particular, will be likely to experience more conflict. However, they are also likely to develop the most interesting ideas, as they include many different perspectives on situations. Helping people adjust to working in teams where there can be conflict is helpful. By carrying out team-building activities and pointing out group think risks, the latter can stifle teamwork and kill innovation. Take care to ensure that Conflict is constructive and working towards innovative causes.

A Note on Risk and Blame

Risk is inherent within an innovation culture. Without risk being taken, it may be difficult to move forward. Finding ways to empower people while taking an acceptable level of control over risk is important so that innovation can occur. Risk can, of course, lead to mistakes being made. Mistakes are good because they can lead to learning, which can drive innovation. However, it is not palatable to have people making the same mistakes over and over again. The organization will need to consider the level of risk it considers palatable and put in place suitable checks and controls to avoid sizeable risks while ensuring that people can take smaller risks to pursue innovation.

On blame, employees will be unlikely to share ideas or take risks if there is a blame culture at the company. Digital transformation, therefore, will be difficult to achieve in this case. For an innovative culture to flourish, people need to feel that when a mistake occurs, the emphasis is not on a witch hunt to determine who was responsible and to punish them. Instead, it should be working out what went wrong and why and finding steps to ensure that it does not occur again.


It is difficult to change organisational culture, but digital transformation environments can benefit from an innovative culture to build competitive advantage. Taking steps to lead and communicate effectively with employees regarding the change, as well as implementing agile, flexible ways of working, embracing conflict and breaking down resistance and blame will all help with building an innovative culture that can be transformational for digital programmes.

Until next time, you are up to date.

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