How CIOs can drive digital transformation and culture

By Andrew Mawson, Founder & CEO at Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA)
CIOs have the chance to drive change in their organisations and boost roles, says Andrew Mawson, Founder & CEO at Advanced Workplace Associates (AWA)

The world has been through a dramatic learning process. During the course of COVID-19, we have witnessed fundamental changes to the way in which we live and work. Employees have developed new expectations, not least in their relationship with the workplace and work-life balance, in corporate leadership, and in office management.

The question is now, how leaders of these organisations will capitalise on those lessons and shifts in expectations to make their organisations fit for a modern and challenging world of work. That includes the remit of CIOs, who already assume an ever-widening remit with responsibility for tech strategy, compliance, cybersecurity, and collaborating with other C-suite members to drive the business agenda. 

Now, through the provision of new technologies that underpin the effective digital workplace, CIOs are becoming agents for change, influential in evolving not only in their organisation's technology but potentially evolving company skills and culture, offering the support and guidance needed for staff to effectively adopt key solutions and embrace digital transformation. 

To fulfil this role as change agents, technically gifted CIOs must widen their remit to address core digital business skills and influence corporate culture to enable modern working practices to deliver real business value. Technology change is complex, but in relative terms it is straightforward compared to upskilling the workforce, changing working practices and evolving culture. 

Mind the training and skills gap 

Making matters tricky is the gap often seen between where the IT function’s remit finishes in relation to training and skills development and where the Learning & Development (L&D) department starts. Skills needed to be effective in using base applications like Teams or Google Hangouts are often seen by L&D as sitting within the technology remit, but some technology functions don’t have the budget or skills to deliver good training in these areas. In some companies, this is even true with core applications like Word, Powerpoint, Excel and other application-related technology tools. There’s also a subtle difference between ‘training’ in the core functions of Teams and the ‘adoption’ of the software by a community. 

Adoption requires behavioural change en masse. To maximise the value of a tool like Microsoft Teams requires confidence with the application and a set of well thought through rules for use across the organisation, but also a change from always using email to adopting Teams for community communication, file storage and informal communications. When people have deeply ingrained habits developed of 20 years or more, change is no mean feat and requires a carefully crafted change process that touches every brain and has technology training embedded within it. 

Technology provides the platform for businesses and work processes to be done differently to reduce time, increase efficiency, be less dependent on paper and make new choices on when and where tasks are performed. 

AI will remove the need for some processes in business as well as provide new powerful tools to make knowledge workers more efficient and effective in their roles. But whose job is it to create a digital culture that is comfortable to embrace these technology-driven changes and cultural norms? 

L&D often see themselves delivering training to support core business activities with specialist areas procuring their own training. L&D embraces training in core business processes and generic skills such as quality management, management, supervision, leadership, coaching, facilitation, health & safety, legal, change management and so on. There’s a gap to be filled if organisations are going to take full value from their digitisation investments. 

Who is also responsible for the maintenance and evolution of organisational culture? In 30 years, I have never come across any individual leader that is responsible for culture. Culture has been defined as ‘the way we do things around here’, but really it’s about the stated and unstated norms of behaviour within a community often modelled, from the behaviours of the founder or top leaders. Yet, as we shift to a digital world with new cultural norms, culture needs to be evolved. The responsibility and skill to manage organisational change will need to be clearly defined. If culture change is everybody’s job, then it's nobody’s job.  

By becoming more proactively involved, CIOs can demonstrate that the tech department is not just a case of providing every colleague with a laptop. Digital is a mindset, and CIOs must think more about how they can support the creation of digital culture and be the coach to the leaders of the ‘C’ suite. 

An opportunity to build loyalty and attract talent

By shifting mindsets, organisations have an opportunity to build a compelling employee experience and increase their chances of acquiring the best talent. Modern employees are looking for an organisation where technology, infrastructure and culture align with what they experience and see in their personal lives. 

This is particularly evident with younger cohorts, who will be seeking out employers who take IT infrastructure, culture and L&D seriously and treat all three as a harmonious whole. To aid this transition, we envisage a new ‘chief experience officer’ role which coordinates all other parties to deliver a superior workplace experience. This person can originate from any department, be it IT, HR, finance, marketing, corporate real estate or elsewhere. At the moment, most CIOs don’t have the soft skills or experience required to lead this change in mindset by themselves, hence our vision for a chief experience officer to aid this important transition and build a workplace fit for the future. 

There is the opportunity for CIOs to take a lead beyond their traditional technical role, the question is will they step up to the plate? 


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