Plunged deeper into the digital age with COVID19?

by Gert van der Walt


To thrive in a digital age, companies need to have an Agile culture. As we dive into the digital abyss, there are 4 barriers to developing an agile culture.

Surely there is no dispute that we are in a digital age, and the pandemic forced us even deeper into that. All over the world lockdown measures have been implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Businesses adapted and many are now working from home. In the pre-covid19 era moving an entire workforce home would have been a long, tedious project. But it all happened in less than 2 weeks – without a lot of planning, designing and stakeholder meetings! It just goes to show that the biggest factor for successful organisational change, really is a collective understanding of why it must change. Everyone understood exactly that if working from home is not successful, there will be little to zero business. Easy to understand and easy to accept. Given the circumstances, what a success! We are still getting used to it, but it is working. And that is truly something to celebrate.

As time progresses, I think leaders will start to realise that the command and control culture is just not appropriate for current times. It is so much harder to control a workforce that is not under management's eyes. It is easy to hide from the boss in the virtual world. The command and control culture probably didn’t work before COVID-19 either, but then a culture change could easily be pushed onto the “do later”-list. New and foreign cultures could just be ignored: “We don’t have to change. The Millennials just have to learn to adapt to us.” (This, would have made management feel good about their indecision to change.) Under the blanket of “daily crisis management” and “too much to do”, leaders have managed to side-step the need to transform their work culture from command and control to one that works better in the 21st century.

I predict that as soon as the initial drive to save the company during lockdown starts wearing down, people will need new reasons to focus and be productive. A productive workforce requires motivation. Back in the office, the boss would be keeping an eye on attendance and keep everyone busy. But now Big Brother cannot see you at home. It is easy to sleep late and spend too much time on unproductive things. All businesses desire behaviours like innovative thinking and dedication to guarantee success. Unfortunately, you won’t see this now if it wasn’t there before COVID-19. If the staff didn’t feel safe before taking risks with creative problem solving, they certainly will not take the risk now either. The upside of this is that you’re in the perfect position to implement long term change with a modern Agile culture that encourages risk-taking, customer closeness and collaboration.

What can you do to start a Digital Age Transformation, keep your team’s performance up and help your company survive? Start with this:

  • Trust. Spend time on building personal relationships. This is the foundation of everything else and it should be nurtured throughout. Invest the time, talk to your staff and don’t underestimate the impact of a trusting relationship

  • Clarity. Be clear about the purpose, direction and goals of the company and ensure each member of the company gets the message. The better you do this, the more each person would be able to work independently towards the same goals and vision. Don’t think that one email (even if it’s a good one) would be enough. According to Jo Owen (The Mobile MBA, 2011), you need to communicate the same (important) message at least 7 times. Most people are busy, lazy readers; your message won’t sink in the first time you say it.

  • Collaboration. If you made it thus far, find ways to get teams to collaborate; not just between members of a small team, but between teams and departments in the company. I found that doing Agile retrospectives really bring teams together and encourages joint decision making and even some collective risk-taking. Any energy towards better collaboration will be well received and well rewarded.

  • Customer closeness. Your customers are central to everything, right? Easy to say it is, but when company shareholders’ interests are at play, it is not all that straightforward. Focus on understanding the needs of your customer, especially during the pandemic. Do you know what is important to them right now? How do you know? Build on the relationship by communicating often and clearly.

Remember you can ask for help and look at others in the market for inspiration.

What an interesting time to dive deeper into the Digital abyss and discover new opportunities! Let’s work towards building a new future, one that will be more equipped to face the next challenge.


Culture for a digital age (July 2017)

The Agile Leader: How to create an agile business in the digital age (Simon Hayward)

The Mobile MBA (Jo Owen)