When asked about the biggest barriers to change, an organisation’s existing culture is always close to the top of the list for IT leaders.

According to Gartner, 46 per cent of CIOs identified culture as the largest barrier to realising the promise of digital business. But the analysts also argue culture can be overhauled, making it rocket fuel for a digital transformation.

Speaking during the Gartner Symposium on the Gold Coast yesterday, Cathleen Blanton, Vice President Gartner Research, argued pioneering companies have successfully shifted culture from a barrier to an accelerator.

“Culture is a barrier, but people do adapt. We can adapt the way we use technology and we can adapt the way we work in teams,” Blanton told delegates.

“Culture does not have to be a barrier, you can think of culture as mindsets and practices that shape behaviour. Think of it as the stuff you and your people do every day.”

Culture is increasingly part of the CIO remit as organisations turn to technology adoption and new ways of working to drive competitive advantage. By 2021, Gartner predicts that CIOs will become as accountable as the chief HR officer for digital business culture change.

“Culture can change, but it’s not by sharing 100-page slide decks or big generic speeches about change,” Blanton said.

She recommends CIOs adopt small cultural hacks to influence mindsets and behaviours, which should be able to be designed and carried out within in 48 hours.

“By culture hacking we don’t mean finding a vulnerable point to break into a system illegally, but if you can find vulnerable points in your culture, you can find some hacks that are going to change those vulnerabilities into real change that sticks.

“Changing your culture doesn’t always have to be big and it doesn’t always have to be hard.”

However she warned, “Culture hacks are low effort but they are not low courage.”

  1. Imagine an organisation unveils a new digital strategy at an all hands meeting. “The next day start dropping into random meetings and you ask: how does this meeting advance our new digital strategy?” If there are no answers, end the meeting and reconvene with good ideas about how this work supports the new digital strategy.
  2. Share stories of your own failures to increase risk tolerance in others and demonstrate how you can personally learn from failure.
  3. Make a rule that all decisions have to be made within 48 hours.
  4. Reward decision making by introducing a competition: staff get two points for making a decision, you lose one point if it’s a bad one. “This helps make change happen faster,” Blanton said.
  5. Invite hard questions: don’t end a meeting until you have encouraged team to ask you three really hard questions.
  6. Accept you don’t have all the answers. Hacks five and six will help you create a growth mindset and an environment that is focused on learning, Blanton said.
  7. Cancel status meetings and replace them with a brief email update.
  8. Adopt the “Innovator as CEO” concept, let the person with the great idea own the process and become CEO of their own idea.
  9. Share the culture journey by running a culture hackathon.
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