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Culture will kill, or enable, modern work

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Culture will kill, or enable, modern work

Work culture is like a personality. It’s made up of values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, experiences and habits that...

4 Minutes Read

Work culture is like a personality. It’s made up of values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, experiences and habits that guide the collective behaviour of the workforce. And like people, work cultures need time to develop. The issue is the astonishing pace of business today demands an activist approach to nurturing culture. Crossing your fingers and hoping people adapt to the radical changes in how a company now gets work done won’t work in an era predicated on speed. And it’s getting faster and faster.

Cognizant sees old and new companies experimenting with technology in a wave of supercharged innovation. At the intersection of automation, platforms and changing business models provide a recipe mix for innovation, and a dire threat if ignored. Our take is that any business is a living entity and if it looks stale or sluggish then people won't want to work for it, or do business with it. Let’s face it, this is about culture and the codes of behaviour that govern how people work. The problem is that the technologies bleeding into work are so new and so disruptive that some cultures resist them at every turn. Stodgy innovation cycles, lacklustre employees and problems attracting talent into the company’s orbit fester until (BOOM!) the unthinkable happens and a competitor (or technology) blindsides from nowhere.

Thriving in this digital era of promise and uncertainty means increasing the velocity of innovation, experimentation and collaboration inside the company and with other 3rd parties at its edge. Workflow is changing as a result, and so is the work culture that mirrors it. Those unspoken rules for work need updating for the digital era predicated on speed. The time taken for a new product or technology to reach a significant milestone in user acceptance is now, quite frankly, astonishing. Last year, the explosive growth of the mobile platform Pokémon Go made $600 million for Niantic Labs in its first three months alone, with a masterclass in marketing strategy to boot (want to learn more, then check out my colleague Rob Brown’s take on what Augmenting the Reality of Everything means for the next generation customer experience). Meanwhile Netflix’s unstoppable platform gives it an incredible $7 billion—yes, $7 Billion dollars! —to spend on content this year, dwarfing every other streaming player and even challenging the mighty Disney’s spend on content, dollar for dollar. These digital platforms and their network effects, are not just for consumers; they’re scaling on the B2B side too—we’ve written about them in our previous posts. Our take is platforms are now the organizing principle for work.

Here is the nub of the issue when it comes to mastering digital. The main engine for this is not some magical technology, although it might seem that way. The main engine is talented people that know how to use and exploit the new tools for work (data, analytics, platforms etc.). And for them to work well, it means creating and sustaining the right culture to support them. Anyone can have a good idea, but internal hierarchies can raise – or stifle – some of the best. A large meeting to brainstorm a VR experience can ignite one person’s ideas while someone else remains silent. The conditions for creative success differ for everyone, so creating multiple working conditions and allowing multiple working styles solicits the best ideas. And if you are reading this as a contributor—then get to know what your conditions for creativity are. Think of the last time you came up with your best ideas. Were you: under pressure? With a specific person? Alone at your desk? Listening to that fellow genius Prince on your headphones?

Culture goes way beyond a funky office or policy for remote working. In our experience, the actual task of transforming a workforce and retuning culture takes years, not just months or quarters. It takes money, dedication and constant reinforcement to get it right for the long haul. You might be interested to know that for our forthcoming report on culture, we’ve identified five core principles of a modern work culture that need careful attention. We prescribe the activities that leaders need to do now in order to prepare their people for the future of work. Keep tuned because we will be releasing our blueprint for a modern work culture very soon.


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