Chiseling out Culture for the Digital Age
Digital Transformation Leadership

Chiseling out Culture for the Digital Age

Leadership - Chiseling out Culture for the Digital Age
Chiseling out Culture for the Digital Age

Michelangelo saw an image in a block of marble and chiseled it out, removing the extra. While there are other reported barriers to digital transformation, Culture tops the list. Risk aversion, lack of customer-centricity, and siloed mindset are holding the organization back. How can leaders chisel out the extra to develop a conducive culture for the digital age?


Top 5 Learning Points

  1. How to envision the possibly best culture for the digital age and then chisel it out
  2. How different would the transformation ready culture be, from one we have today?
  3. In addition to technology, what other factors drive a change in culture?
  4. How do you maintain the balance between cultural change and outright risk?
  5. How do you ensure different mindsets and generations collaborate to ensure the best possible culture for transformation?


Transcript Summary

Digital transformation needs a cultural shift to succeed. Enterprises need to start that shift right from recruitment to ensure the teams understand where the company is headed, and the roadmap. Team leaders have their jobs clear- to ensure buy-in from leadership, to balance skills and behaviors that different generations and mindsets bring, and to achieve the fine balance between risk and innovation. Then the culture will ensure the extra is sculpted away and the culture that drives digital transformation emerges. Daren Hubbard, Chief Information Officer, Wayne State University, and Dr. Jonathan Reichental, Chief Information Officer, City of Palo Alto, discuss on “Chiseling out Culture for the Digital Age.”.



Sanjog: When Michael Angelo, the famous sculptor saw an image in a block of marble, he focused on chiseling it out by removing the extra. In today’s digital age, we know we need to have a culture of transformation, but that is also the biggest barrier to proper digital transformation. Culture is not about just creating something new but identifying what we need to remove. So you need to chisel out the culture which will help prevent the risk aversion, the lack of customer centricity, and the siloed mindsets that hold back organizations from transforming. What would the transformation ready culture look like compared to what you have today?

Daren: Everyone who joins us, brings new ideas and skills, which we try to gel with our business needs. But in an academic institution, there are very knowledgeable faculty and researchers and going digital does not change any of the knowledge that they have. The only use of the new technologies is a help to disseminate their knowledge a little further. We try to leverage what they are already doing more effectively and more efficiently using this new technology. Trying to go digital is about adapting what’s positive and works for them, and helping them to extend what they are already doing to new mediums on new platforms with new tools.

Sanjog: Jonathan, besides just technology, are there some other dimensions we have to think of while going digital?

Jonathan: Culture will influence the way an organization can embrace their digital transformation, and that could be their differentiation from other companies.

You need to create an environment where people’s ideas are embraced where people are having fun, where people feel that they can take risks, and know that if they fail they’ll be supported to try the next idea? Fundamentally, if you’re going to make digital transformation work, you need a super focus on the culture piece

Sanjog: While the concept of culture is very fluid and very subjective, are there any common denominators that you would say are critical to getting that foundation in place, after which the custom layer can be placed for the organization?

Daren: There are some common themes that you can really get people around and get people to agree upon. Again, I’ve always worked in higher education and for us, we create a culture around student success and faculty excellence. We can grow from there and shape and reform to better support those two ideals. But you have to start at a common point because folks have different perspectives and different focus areas inside the organization. But if we can agree on those two main things, I think we have a better chance of success.

Sanjog: Jonathan, essentially a culture is developed when a person is doing the right things or things conducive to the digital, as a mindset. It will take massive effort to shift the mindset from which is conducive to digital to actually a mindset where then these people turn out as catalysts for transformation. What do you do?

Jonathan: One thing that organizations have to recognize is that it is for the long-term and requires a significant commitment from leadership, starting with making a choice to do it. We take the famous story of Kodak. People say Kodak failed because they didn’t see digital cameras, they didn’t see the digital phenomena happen. That’s actually wrong. The reality has Kodak created the first digital camera, they were actually ahead of the game. Why did they fail? It was really a failure of culture. They thought that they could continue to market – their existing business and overcome the other major trend that was happening in the marketplace. Their environment, their leadership, their management, their people were not in a position where they could quickly pivot to a completely new mindset, start thinking about a different way of doing business. Eventually, they would have to radically change in how they approach what they were doing to be able to compete and be successful and the rest is history. It has to come from the very beginning of recruitment, right through to all the different aspects of the experience an individual has at a business.

For the city of Palo Alto, and particularly my team, I always talk about, what’s it like today recruiting versus what it was like when we started our transformation five years ago? Back then we would be lucky if we got five to ten people applying. Today, when we have an opening, we get 100 people, maybe a 150 people. I’m very proud of that number. The reason is that we’ve been successful in communicating that we have a culture that is fun, where people come to work, they have a purpose. That’s where culture starts.

Daren: A lot of what Jonathan just mentioned is around empowering folks when they first get in the door. If you’ve got a culture established in your organization and you explain to your team members as they come on board, that this is the place that embraces new technology and the ability for people to add positively to the organization, then cultural shifts or mindsets are in place from the very beginning. You can just leverage them continually and promote and affirm that power to embrace change from their own personal level.

Sanjog: When we try to create a conducive culture for digital, what are we pursuing? But at the other end, digital is not a destination, it’s going to be a journey. In changing times, is it better to say no to blueprinting transformation and just focus on becoming better internally to serve the best externally?

Daren: I would say as a technology organization, we focus on continuous improvement and I like to say, even though we’re a technology organization, it’s more about our ability to support individuals, our partners on our campus in our environment to do better than merely about the technology. Since technology is continuously changing, and we have Moore’s law in effect? We have to focus on adding the value and creating a culture that supports partnering with our business areas and our main customers inside our organization. We should also focus on how we can use all the new technology tools to move the whole organization forward.

Sanjog: Jonathan, leadership is defined where someone defines a vision and then other people follow it. But in the digital age, you can truly not be just preparing for tomorrow, because digital age means everything could change tomorrow. So, how would you lead the troops and build a culture without having an end goal in mind?

Jonathan: You’re at a disadvantage if you don’t have a vision but here’s some interesting data on this topic. There’s a Harvard Business Review survey done in 2013, people were asked in their organizations whether they know their organization’s vision. The answer was 70% didn’t know their organization’s vision. That translates into 70% of people who don’t know what they’re doing.

In my team, when we first got here, we created this pretty high-level vision to build and enable leading digital city. We have to have discussions about what does it mean to us, what that means in terms of actions. The feedback I’ve received is, people have a good understanding of the big picture, and they know what the overall goal is. It has created the right context for the right the discussions. Ultimately, we can always go back to – this is where we are headed, we make some twists and turns but we know what the destination is.

Sanjog: Daren, when you are trying to create that vision and subsequently the culture for the organization, how you come up with an aggregate view, especially when you’re dealing with everything being in flux. Do you keep playing this moving target vision exercise?

Daren: I keep the vision of the organization relatively simple and straightforward. Jonathan stated for the city Palo Alto, this great digital and smart city from ways to the university in terms of technology, our goal is to provide the best technology experience, whatever that may be. With that, we take our show on the road so to speak to go and interface and build partnerships with all the key campus, stakeholders and community members and take from that, literally that listening to that, that’s always underway, take from that the specific things that need to be adjusted or focused on and route to that excellent technology experience.

As we wor... Read Full Transcript v  


Daren Hubbard, Chief Information Officer, Wayne State University

Daren Hubbard is currently Chief Information Officer and Associate Vice President for computing and information technology at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. Wayne State University is a large urban research university with the... More   View all posts

Dr. Jonathan Reichental, Chief Information Officer, City of Palo Alto

For over 25 years, Dr. Jonathan Reichental has been successfully helping organizations leverage the value of information and communications technology to solve business problems, increase effectiveness, and support revenue growth. He has ex... More   View all posts
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