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Digital Transformation : Elements of Organisation Culture

Frameworks, frameworks

One of the things that makes it so difficult to think about organisational culture is that there are a lot of models that have tried to describe it and like the blind men trying to describe the elephant, have only been partially successful. Indeed as someone wise once said, “All models are wrong (incomplete); some models are useful”. I have found two models particularly useful which I will refer to in this series of articles but I will also try to abstract out the important elements from these models so that we can perhaps create our own method of thinking about organisational culture.

One of the most important books that we should all read is the Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. The emphasis of the book, of course, is on building a “learning organisation”. Now more than ever, this is the need of the hour. The other model that I have thought through and used extensively is the Schneider model of organisation cultures. Let’s look at both of these closely.

The need for continuous learning

As we build our tech organisations to bring them closer to business, we enter a war for hiring and retaining the best of the best. One of the reason we need our talent to be the best we can afford is because our competition has changed significantly. Even a banking application has to now compete with WhatsApp, Instagram and Gmail, in terms of user experience, instead of just competing with other banks. Naturally, you need a team that can think like the WhatsApp, Instagram and Gmail teams to succeed. More on this in a later post.

Now hiring and retaining top talent is a daunting task. But to add to that, hiring the best of the best, isn’t enough. In today’s world of rapidly changing technology landscape, skill counts for much less than the ability to learn. This means a different hiring strategy as well as an environment that encourages employees to:

  • Admit when they don’t know something
  • Keep an eye out on what’s happening in the industry
  • Experiment with newer technologies and newer ways of working
  • Share their learnings with the rest of the organisation
  • Collaborate to build on top of each others’ learnings
  • Do all of this while staying aligned to the common purpose and objectives of the company

Balancing personal growth and organizational goals

Now that we understand the need for an organisation to learn continuously, we also have to understand that it is people who learn and not the organisation. So caring deeply about your employees’ personal growth has to be built into the fabric of the organisation. Having said that it is also important to ensure that personal growth doesn’t come at the cost of organisational goals. So there’s need to maintain a balance between the two.

Collaboration and Cultivation

The Schneider model of organization cultures talks about four main types of organization culture. Control culture, Competence culture, Collaboration culture and Cultivation culture. While every organisation has each of these cultures at play to a greater or lesser degree, it has one of these as its dominant culture.

Control culture demands the use of standardised processes to further the goals of the organization but standardised processes only work in an environment that is well understood by everyone. So in a world where constant learning is table stakes for any digital business, we can easily see that the control culture doesn’t work. But even the competence culture might not serve a digital business well in the long term because in a competence culture, most incentives are individual leading to internal competition which is likely to be at the cost of organisational goals.

That leaves us with the Collaboration and Cultivation cultures and this is what we should aim for when thinking about what kind of organisation we want to build.


So in summary, I think continuous learning as well as collaboration & cultivation are the most important elements of an organisational culture to keep in mind for a digital business. In the upcoming articles, we will dive deeper into these elements and try to create a model that works for us to think about when we think of new digital businesses.

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