Culture: Hero or Villain of Digital Transformation

March 4, 2021

There is no digital transformation possible without cultural transformation.

Something obvious, but at the same time surprisingly neglected by organizations in their strategic ambitions. Admirable ambitions, inspiring purposes and vigorous analyzes coexist with inaction and negligence in relation to something inherent in any social organism: group dynamics is the limit of the group reach in any context.

Organizational culture is a socio-political-semiotic process that involves:

Collective mental map that establishes the lenses through which the variables of the internal and external environment are perceived, analyzed and incorporated, guiding individual attitudes and group behaviors, shaping the company's way of being and influencing its strategic and operational choices.

Grouping standards of operating and interacting for the realization of a definite purpose in time and space, recognized by individuals as the defined set of norms and values - not necessarily explicit -, for conflict resolution, problems solving, decision making, recognition, penalties and enforcement.

The bond's nature that the individuals establish with each other and with the business context in which they are inserted, combining affective and rational aspects.

Organizational cultures are, therefore, social constructs carried out by groups orchestrated by leaders capable of articulating common interests, creating meanings and implementing mutual obligations between all members, in a permanent interactive process of domination, transformation and contestation.

Throughout the time, leaders and subordinates model languages, traditions, norms, values, meanings, symbols, rituals, myths, processes, control mechanisms and recognition systems. Leaders do all this by means of a narrative that presents itself as natural, neutral, believable, fair and legitimate, to be able to organize social and psychological processes in this human grouping.

It creates, then, the distinctive expression of a company in relation to the others. Every organizational culture is inexorably the original expression of its trajectory, in a continuous dynamic defined by internal and external social interactions.

And what is at stake in digital transformation?

It is just the resignification of these underlying elements that constitute the organization culture. Resignification also of the own political articulation dynamics that allows the group to be involved with the collective social construction.

Organizational culture is a systemic phenomenon. There is no specific alternative. There is no possible shortcuts. There is no endgame in short term. It is a medium- and long-term journey, clearly with handouts along the way.

Three elements stand out in this digital context:

Organic: the logical-planned-linear premise of the industrial paradigm does not work well in the ephemeral-open-complex context of the digital paradigm. Abundant resources - including capital - become commodities, and value becomes the orchestration of these resources in a collaborative ecosystem delivery that should be distinctive and quickly accessible by the target community.

Light: the control premise and capital accumulation as value leverage in long term are not presented in this new context. The focus is on the lightness in everything: from the organizational structure till the software architecture. Transformed operational models to generate value by means of accessing services rather than product acquisition. Corporate relationships committed to the value chain transformed into agreements and situational partnerships in dynamic networks.

Empathy: the look centered on the experience of the other is the valid look. And expressions like CX, UX and EX themselves in this optic of value centered in customer, user and employee. The empathic logic in the journeys' construction and experiences connect solutions, relations and contents from the relevant context of the other, destroying referenced operational standards in product distribution.

Transforming digitally a business implies redesigning its culture from these three fundamental elements in the conception of behaviors, processes and systems. It is not a secondary task delegable to the middle management, but rather the primary mission of high leadership in the Advisory and Executive Boards.


Daniel Augusto Motta is Managing Partner and CEO of BMI Blue Management Institute. Doctor in Economics from USP, Master’s in economics from FGV-EAESP and Bachelor’s in Economics from USP. He is Alumni OPM Harvard Business School. He also serves as Managing Partner of WhiteFox Corporate Venture Capital, based in San Francisco (USA) and as Senior Tupinambá Maverick at content tech Bossa.etc. He also serves as Strategic Planning Director of Unibes and the Deliberative Advisory Board of MASP He was a Founding member of Brazilian Finance Society. He was Professor of MBAs at Dom Cabral Foundation, Insper, FGV, ESPM, AND PUC-SP. He is author of several articles published by Valor Econômico, EXAME, VocêSA and Folha de São Paulo, and also has three articles published by Harvard Business Review Brasil. He is author of the best-sellers A Liderança Essencial and Anthesis.