While smart IT strategy and effective execution remain crucial components for business success, organizational culture has become one of the most distinctive differentiators in digital business today. According to recent research we conducted with HfS Research, companies that intentionally focus on culture realize greater success, both revenue-wise and in terms of building out their digital initiatives. Successful digital companies such as Amazon and Google didn’t get to where they are through luck or good timing – they built strong organizational cultures to uphold their vision and reinforce their execution models.

How can forward-thinking companies follow suit? As IT moves from a cost center to an opportunity creator, how can  organizational culture be shaped to help businesses meet the changing demands of consumers and markets? What customs, policies or even inherent principles should a company hold fast to?

Here are five actions businesses can take to move their organizational culture in the right direction:

  • Take a customer-first approach. Although this phrase has become overused, the meaning behind it still holds true. Zappos is one example of a company that embraces an all-in customer-centric culture, and others, such as Businesssolver, have followed its lead. At the benefits technology company, new hires are trained in customer service best practices and shadow experienced service reps, which gives them a real-life idea of how their work impacts the business and the customer.  
  • Decentralize and speed it up. With today’s emphasis on fast time to market, perfection is increasingly an obstacle to progress. This is why continuous integration/continuous development (CI/CD), DevOps and Agile have emerged as the preferred models for software development.  Smaller teams working iteratively to release code and incorporate feedback can move faster, learn faster and develop more compelling products than larger teams working monolithically. To support these new software development approaches, traditional organizational charts need to be flattened, and cross-functional teams need to be encouraged to facilitate speed, collaboration and innovative thinking. If workers are overly focused on where they fit on an org chart, they’ll be more concerned with protocol than results.
  • Take an outcome-based mindset. It’s no longer enough to employ great programmers. Companies also need to ensure developers understand the business impact of their work, and how they’re helping the organization better serve clients and more effectively compete in the market. Coders should embrace the same end-goals as business leaders. Agile software development purveyor Pivotal is a good example of this. The company works alongside clients to “show” rather than tell them how to be agile developers, which fosters an outcomes-based approach through CI/CD.
  • Practice confrontational consensus. Companies that embrace what we call “confrontational consensus” achieve greater success than those that are more dictatorial in their approach or that employ a more classical consensus-based model. With confrontational consensus, teams define objective criteria (business results, client satisfaction) for what they would like to accomplish, based on customer wants and needs. They debate, discuss and argue their points of view, and then prioritize the IT deliverables with the greatest impact on those agreed-upon goals. By doing so, teams can move more quickly through the list of initiatives and specific user requests.
  • Encourage continuous learning. Although we make a living advising and helping clients answer tough technological questions, we also understand that wisdom and knowledge can’t be outsourced forever. To ensure they keep up with the latest trends, businesses need to continuously educate themselves on evolving concepts and operational mandates such as continuous delivery, shortened turnaround times and perpetual training.

Because it’s amorphous, organizational culture can be difficult to establish, and it can be even more difficult to change an existing one. But by intentionally focusing on these and other key cultural elements, businesses can more successfully bring their digital initiatives to life. 

Allen Shaheen

Allen Shaheen

Allen Shaheen is Executive Vice-President, Digital Engineering at Cognizant. He is also a board member of the Cognizant U.S. Foundation,  a non-profit... Read more