Can company culture be digitised?
Cosmetics giant L'Oréal had a problem. With more than 82,000 employees in 150 countries, new employees were struggling to understand its corporate culture. A clear and consistent sense of company culture was being lost due to the international scale of the brand. Its solution? Fit Culture, the first custom-made app by a company in order to foster a better understanding of its culture.
Launched in June 2017, the Fit Culture app leads employees through a series of learning exercises that help them to become ‘culture gurus’. Along the way, they have the opportunity to be let in on company ‘secrets’ and fun facts. The app is available in 11 languages. It’s certainly a novel approach to embedding culture.
But uniqueness doesn’t guarantee success. In fact, the app is a rather unorthodox approach to the issue of culture, which is traditionally understood in quite sensory terms – the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people or society. Indian independence movement leader Mahatma Gandhi beautifully summed culture up when he said: “A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people.”
So how much of what resides in the hearts and souls of people can be digitised? Is company culture listicle and prescriptive, as understood by L'Oréal, or an abstract, ambiguous and fluid feeling upon walking through the door?
We asked four HR professionals for their thoughts.
Clare Barclay, chief operating officer, Microsoft UK
“It’s important to recognise that as the role of technology becomes ever more critical to the success of organisations, its impact on company culture can be profound. As such, any organisation that pursues a path of digital transformation needs to realise that it’s not just a technology deployment or an IT exercise, it’s also a people exercise.
Digital technologies alone don’t create culture, it’s something you cultivate through strong leadership, direction and by fostering engagement. Digital has a key role to play with employee engagement, but a combination of factors is needed for success.
Culture is at the heart of any company change, and digital is a key enabler to both engaging and driving cultural change. The organisations getting it right today are the ones anticipating what comes next and proactively taking steps towards it. After all, creating and maintaining a strong culture in which technology blends with human potential is where the magic happens.”
Frank Douglas, CEO of Caerus Executive
“Culture is an output not an input. In other words, culture is a result of your policies, processes, leadership behaviour and unwritten rules (ie inputs). As such, apps cannot capture the lived experience of an employee in terms of the impact those inputs have on them. Apps can assist in the onboarding process, but culture is about the human interface with an organisation. That is not easily codified.”
Karen Beaven, founder of the HR Entrepreneur’s Network and a member of PeopleSpaceLeaders
“My view is that technology is an enabler of culture and when adopted in the right way can add significant value. Can it be digitised? Yes, I believe it can be to an extent and in some cases, needs to be where no physical work environment exists. I think it’s still possible to get a strong sense of culture and inclusion in a digital environment. Think of entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuck, for example. Do people feel included in his world? Do they know what he stands for, his tone of voice, how he gets things done? Yes, they do, and they have a sense of this without having to be in a room with him just through his digital presence. This gives us one layer of culture and then through digitisation of relevant information, people now have access to more info than ever to find out more. And they have access to it more quickly than ever before, enabling the curious to get up to speed and receive a consistent message, even on a global scale. I also believe that personal interactions, whether they occur in a digital or physical environment, and what people do (as opposed to what they say), is a make or break factor in creating and communicating culture too.”
Tim Pointer, HR director and chair of the Business Culture Awards
“Business culture should be purposefully led by the strategies and behaviours that will deliver tomorrow's organisational success. Our future performance relies on us changing our business approach today, such as enhancing customer-centricity; product innovation; brand integration; colleague collaboration; or digital transformation.
To deliver this we need to learn how to evolve the structures, systems, stories, symbols, and rhythms through which we get work done. Alternatively, we can leave the culture to be shaped by past habits, leaders and projects – in which case we are accepting a workplace of 'busy fools'.
We need to express culture not as ‘the way we do things around here’ but ‘the way we've chosen to work, so that we are successful’. At a time when our products and services are quickly copied, our culture can create a sustainable business advantage.”