At the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, a panel of tech leaders discussed how large organizations can adopt the cultures of digital-native companies.
Large, older companies that want to move faster and become more innovative may face challenges doing so on a pre-digital foundation. However, with the right leaders and hiring practices in place, legacy organizations can adopt the cultures of digital natives like Amazon and Google to compete with and even surpass their offerings.
Digital represents "a seismic shift," said Melissa Swift, global leader for digital solutions at the Korn Ferry Hay Group, during a panel discussion at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in May. "All the things we used to do that worked don't work anymore, our clients told us."
However, you don't want to lose what has historically worked for the company in terms of creating culture from the top down, Swift added. "You have to connect the organization's past to its future," she said.
SEE: IT leader's guide to achieving digital transformation (Tech Pro Research)
With more connectivity in the modern office, successful organizations must figure out how to power a multiplicity of cultures. "It doesn't have to be a big overarching overall machine," Swift said. "Let's figure out a cultural theme and framework that works, and lets people operate in a way that's more agile and nimble."
There needs to be a focus on KPIs when it comes to changing culture, Swift added, to determine how your decisions play out in the long run.
When it comes to hiring in a digital culture, "the right people often look wrong," Swift said. Korn Ferry Hay Group has executives complete an exercise where they have to list all of the reasons why they might not hire somebody. Then, they have to go back and change them to why they would hire that person.
For example, if an executive lists "has had lots of jobs" as a negative, you could change that to "is curious and adaptable," as a positive, as those are two predictors of success for digital talent, Swift said.
"We have this lens of what the right people look like—we want a steady pair of hands that can think out ambiguity," Swift said. "But the ability to marinate in ambiguity is really helpful. On paper, that looks wrong."
Digitally transforming requires companies to change their lens on talent, Swift added. "It takes effort for organizations to say, 'I'm not going to hire in my own image anymore,'" she said.
SEE: IT leader's guide to making DevOps work (Tech Pro Research)
In the past, organizations overemphasized technical capabilities when hiring engineers, Andrei Oprisan, vice president of technology and director of the Boston Tech Hub for Liberty Mutual Insurance, said during the discussion. Today, that pendulum has swung to the other side, as companies are looking for technical talent that can also communicate clearly.
"You need to explain to the business what you're working on and how you're driving the business forward," Oprisan said. "It's not about hiring very talented computer scientists—we all want that—but at the end of the day, it's all about if you are creating the right culture with that talent you're attracting." You want to hire people who are open to criticism, and to breaking down the wall between IT and business and design, he added.
Traditional HR organizations also post a challenge to hiring digital talent, Tanguy Catlin, a senior partner at McKinsey, said during the discussion.
"HR is not set up to get you where you need to be," Catlin said. "You have to set up a separate HR function, partner with different folks, and go to different campuses. You have to train how to work with digital experts to create a compelling experience. What good talent looks like changes very rapidly."
For organizations trying to adopt a more digital culture, Oprisan offered some final words of advice: "Set a strategic vision, hire doers, get out of the way."
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