Driving collaboration is key to cultural change

In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of transforming your company’s culture as an enabler for the digital transformation you are most probably undergoing at this very moment. This time my focus is on what it takes to get cultural change started, to keep it going and to make sure everybody in the company breathes it.

Abandon “Command and Control”

How to set about a cultural change? Certainly not by tenaciously sticking to hierarchical forms and structure. Change can never be imposed top-down. Inspiration and energy for change most often start at the ‘lower levels’ within the company and the wise leaders embrace that. “Change begins at the end of your comfort zone”, Roy T. Bennett taught us. The successful leader dares to leave his comfort zone and starts moving from being a gatekeeper to being an enabler, allowing for some sort of ‘power-sharing’.

“Command and Control” needs to shift to “Inspire and Empower”. This change in leadership is the biggest challenge for the coming years. Driving collaboration is key, but not always easy, especially not across large organizations.

Create a Sharing Economy Model within the organization

“Please be more collaborative” does not work if you don’t have collaboration tools in place. Digital tools are omnipresent. Use them to create a sharing economy model within the organization , to allow information to flow freely and encourage collaboration on all levels and across silos. Internal social media contribute to a sense of openness, allowing for interactions to take place regardless of the levels in hierarchy. It is in organizations with a strong sense of sharing, really allowing for open feedback, that change will happen. It is through creating a forum for dialogue in the company, that you can change mindset and behaviors. An ongoing CONVERSATION is essential, change will not come from top-down programs. Every single employee needs to know what is happening and what is expected from him, both in his actions and his thoughts, and he needs to be able to provide open feedback and communicate his own ideas as well as his fears.

The huge gap between leaders and employees needs to be bridged

Plenty of books and blogs have been dedicated to ‘leadership the new style’. The world has changed. The way we do business has changed. And most importantly, customers have changed. Every leader knows change is crucial to survive, collaboration across the entire organization is key, departmental silos are to be dismantled, and a strong sense of community and transparency are condition to keep everyone on board. Yet, the gap between leadership and employees has never been wider. 85% of senior leaders regard their company’s culture as highly collaborative, but only 41% of their employees agree. Time for a dialogue I would say.

Without the right tools one never creates the right mindset

Digital transformation requires the right digital tools. Aha, that is really stating the obvious. Yet, two of the major hurdles for digital transformation to be successful, are precisely focused around this topic. Organizations either have a lot of old ‘legacy’ systems, lacking all the collaborative and sharing options new tools have, or there is a lack of digital skills. The first, suffering from old systems, has to be conquered by daring to invest in new technology, often without a very convincing business case (either revenue growth or cutting costs) for the short term, with a continuous focus on establishing a future-proof organization.

Tools are just tools without people using them to the bleeding edge

The lack of digital skills can’t just simply be solved by introducing short courses or training periods. The digital non-natives, often a majority, need more than that. Using role models next to it will accelerate change. Their use of a new tool, and their ongoing effort to teach and help others will definitely generate more credibility and enthusiasm. It is action learning over classroom learning.

With digital tools and data, it is employees first

However, even in organizations where they are using new digital tools, these tools are still not contributing in an optimal way. This is largely because they are still embedded in a management-centric culture, being used for control and not for learning. It is the very reason for numerous CRM projects to have failed big time, a system being implemented for managers to be able to control and not for employees to be able to get to know and serve customers better.

Democratizing data is yet another factor. Allowing for employees to have access to most of the data, to experiment and improve and ultimately to develop new insights from these themselves, is what makes culture stand out as ‘digital culture’.


The collaboration gap mentioned earlier needs to be closed and it needs to be closed fast. Leaders need to walk the talk to transform culture and be the front-runners in using the internal social networks and sharing information to the max. It is only through extreme collaboration and sharing that employees can be empowered to drive the change bottom-up.

How much empowerment to give to your people? There’s only one rule of thumb. If you do not lay awake at night of the empowerment you have given, you have not given enough.