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The First Step to Changing Company Culture? Understand Your People

This is part one of a series on exploring culture and digital business transformation

Matt Hopgood
Matt Hopgood
Francesca Sorrentino
Francesca Sorrentino

New consumer demands, emerging technology and market disruption are shifting the way companies think about their structure and processes; moving towards ways of working that are more agile and leveraging technology to provide products or services to customers.

There are many complexities around organizational change and digital business transformation – especially for legacy organizations that have maintained the same status quo for years and are struggling not only to innovate, but to innovate quickly.

For example, legacy financial services organizations have faced an uphill battle updating outdated technology, systems and processes to keep up with new, more agile challengers entering the market. These new players were built for the digital age and not constrained by “old” ways of thinking that hinder ability to innovate. According to 2018 research from Adobe, more than 75 percent of all financial services respondents reported a need for investments in upskilling workers, with 46 percent citing difficulties utilizing new technologies being brought into the organization – showcasing a skills gap that must also be addressed alongside transformation efforts.

“The cultural challenge that banks are going through is that they're having to try to pivot back to having a much more customer-centric focus and value proposition led from the customer perspective,” Matt Hopgood, Global Vice President, Strategy and Consulting, Publicis Sapient, London, said. “And that is an uncomfortable cultural shift that's happening, while also having to digitize and react to macroeconomic changes.”

Though uprooting processes can fundamentally change the way an organization works for the better, it can sometimes be a difficult thing, especially when balancing a shift towards innovation, while also remaining connected to ongoing brand legacy.


Amy Onorato

Groups of people working together

“Implementing change entails employees being a part of the transformation from the onset, while installing change tends to lead to disenchanted employees,” Christian White, senior manager, OCM & project management, Publicis Sapient, Houston, said. “Humans are creatures of habit – we naturally have routine lifestyles, even at work. And when you turn working processes upside down, there’s a huge impact on culture.” 

According to the Edelman 2020 Trust Barometer, 83 percent of respondents expressed fear of job security due to change issues like job relocation, automation and lack of training. Organizational change can often seem like a process-oriented journey -- with efforts focused on installing new operating models and frameworks. But in order to successfully implement this change alongside digital business transformation efforts, organizations must also take into account how culture exists within the workplace -- the nuances of human nature, the values and rituals that have become ingrained and embraced by the workforce. Without understanding the “softer” elements of how people work on a day-to-day basis, new processes may be short-lived, or run the risk of being rejected entirely due to internal resistance or slow adoption by employees who may struggle to break old habit.  

“Getting an operating model up and running is less about the design of it rationally and more about the acceptance of it emotionally,” Hopgood said. “What you really need to understand is: To what degree are you culturally aligned towards the new model or culturally resistant to the right ways of working?” 

Collaborative work spaces

“Getting an operating model up and running is less about the design of it rationally and more about the acceptance of it emotionally. What you really need to understand is: To what degree are you culturally aligned towards the new model or culturally resistant to the right ways of working?”

Matt Hopgood , Global Vice President, Strategy and Consulting

How to set a cultural baseline

Setting a cultural baseline, or understanding how culture currently operates and is expressed at the onset of a transformation initiative, can help organizations create programs aimed at retaining the core values while identifying potential barriers to change. By evaluating the impact of change and readiness to embrace it, tailored communications, training and initiatives can be created to address impacted stakeholders in a meaningful and proactive way.

We have found that leveraging ethnographic research can help organizations begin to evaluate their overall change programs by following a few key strategies:

Set Challenge-Based Hypotheses

Work with leadership and initial stakeholders to gather feedback and identify a set of potential cultural roadblocks. For example, does the company struggle when making tough decisions or holding people accountable? Are different departments working in siloed environments? Do employees feel connected to how their work translates to broader company values? These initial hypotheses can help frame areas of study and how feedback is measured across the broader organization on critical issues.

Common Cultural Roadblocks to DBT Success

At Publicis Sapient, we have identified several common cultural roadblocks organizations face when approaching change efforts. Evaluation can help identify potential challenges early, so leadership can work to establish appropriate programs for change.

Image showing the common cultural roadblocks to DBT success
Images showing organizational change management

“Understanding whether you tend towards being relationship-based or more delivery-based helps you then effectively tailor or customize any of your change programs so that you are coaching and training to mitigate against the right characteristics of your culture,” Hopgood said.

For example, one UK-based financial services organization conducted a study of their existing culture to identify how their people operated, what values mattered most to the business and what potential roadblocks existed when implementing new operational systems. Once they discovered their organization skewed towards a relationship-focused way of working, they developed a list of recommendations that facilitated a new change model, while still adhering to the cultural foundations that were most important to their core brand identity, legacy, and values.

Collaborative colleagues

Implementing cultural change

Developing – and then implementing – large-scale organizational changes takes time. While processes can be introduced, the pace in which new ways of working are adopted may take longer as employees get used to new ways of working and new cultural norms are established. Integrating culture alongside process at the start can help ensure shifts in culture happen at the appropriate pace alongside new operating models.

“You can't just build on the layer of new thinking on top of layer of old behavior and expect that to succeed,” Hopgood said. “Organizations need to be honest about the pace of the change for the change to then actually take root and be authentic.”

Matt Hopgood
Matt Hopgood
Global Vice President, Strategy and Consulting
Francesca Sorrentino
Francesca Sorrentino
Client Partner, Publicis Sapient, London, United Kingdom


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