Accelerate Digital Transformation by Hacking Your I&O Culture

December 15, 2020

Contributor: Katie Costello

Transform I&O culture to be more agile, innovative and customer-centric by leveraging culture hacks.

Give everyone one hour each day to work on any initiative they’d like — metric-free — to encourage innovation. Create an unproduced video of a user struggling with a system the team believes to be issue-free and role-play until it's resolved. These small yet impactful experiences can quickly reshape employee behaviors and become an integral part of driving larger-scale initiatives. 

Now more than ever, infrastructure and operations (I&O) leaders face increased pressure to support digital acceleration, which is not an easy feat during a time of crisis. There is a high likelihood that I&O teams are feeling transformation fatigue, so the question becomes: How can I&O leaders develop a prescriptive, manageable and actionable approach to digital transformation that drives tangible results in the short term?  

The answer: Culture hacks. They can be easily woven into an organization’s cultural fabric and serve as an effective way to encourage transformation without exhausting employees.

Read more: 10 Culture Hacks for Digital Transformation

A well-crafted culture hack has these core attributes:

  • Actionable. The hack is easily actioned in a tangible way, and is not theoretical or ambiguous in nature.
  • Low effort. The work required to prepare the hack can be completed in fewer than 48 hours.
  • Immediate. The effects of the hack are practically immediate.
  • Visible. The hack has high signaling power to the group that you’re trying to change.
  • Emotional. The hack triggers a visceral reaction.

“Driving cultural change at a smaller, more visceral level is far more likely to produce timely, lasting behavior improvements,” says Katherine Lord, VP Analyst, Gartner. “I&O leaders should embrace the art of culture hacking to enhance organizational agility, innovation and customer centricity.”

To support digital transformation efforts, create a vision of the ideal workplace culture that aligns with the broader IT organization and enterprise. Within I&O, culture hacks can drive four main goals for I&O.

Goal No. 1: Agility

Agility came to the forefront for some companies that were forced to become more digital when the pandemic hit. To keep up with, or even surpass, competitors, organizations must remain flexible and agile to adapt to a post-pandemic world and avoid future shocks.

Long-term agility can be achieved by fostering a culture where failure is embraced as a learning opportunity, rather than a wholly negative outcome. Instead of celebrating wins alone, for instance, leave room for celebrations around at least one failed experiment each quarter to ensure proper improvement for the next time. Improve agility further by holding 15-minute stand-up meetings with teams to replace traditional operational meetings.

Goal No. 2: Innovation

Innovation challenges traditional mindsets and stagnation, driving clear value-adds for I&O teams. It’s also increasingly important as businesses become more digital and the “next big thing” is right around the corner. 

Consider holding a hackathon focused on new infrastructure initiatives or reward people for calling out “that’s how we’ve always done it” thinking. As infrastructure evolves and becomes more distributed, culture hacks enable I&O teams to move past traditional, “territorial” thinking — where I&O teams are structured based on roles.

Instead they’ve embraced innovative ways of fulfilling digital business requirements, where I&O teams solve digital challenges by capitalizing on collective skills and collaborating with one another.

Goal No. 3: Collaboration

I&O leaders understand the benefits of cross-functional collaborative work but often face cultural resistance to new ways of working. It doesn’t help that traditional I&O organizational siloed structures are often not conducive to cross-collaboration, something that has been compounded by the shift to remote work.  

To tackle this, encourage I&O teams to practice the concept of opt-in teams. Rather than dictating all project assignments for your staff, let them choose a few to work on themselves to ensure ongoing engagement and that their interests are met.

Members of the server operations team might be interested in the organization’s new automation tools, just as the network team may have some new ideas for using DevOps to attain tangible results.

Goal No. 4: Customer centricity 

Categorize each I&O project based on the business benefit it is expected to deliver. One of the core tenets of the 2021 CIO Agenda — winning differently — is all about how organizations must go where their customers are, which is increasingly digital.

From a culture hack perspective, this may take the form of placing an empty chair in the conference room (which is likely virtual right now) to ensure that the theoretical voice of the customer is represented, or even role-play a user struggling to navigate a system that I&O believes has no major issues.

Read more: How Infrastructure and Operations Can Enable Digital Change

“Identifying your preferred end state will support the change journey and goals for your I&O organization,” says Lord. “Keep in mind that there is often a gap between what management perceives to be the culture and what is happening in reality.”

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