Why a people-centric culture is critical to security, growth and transformation [Q&A]

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Digital transformation is still very much flavor of the month, and businesses face an increasing level of cyber threats. But what is sometimes overlooked is that these things aren't all about technology.

People are an important part of the equation too, driving change and reacting to events. We spoke to James Harrison, head of UK at Telstra, to find out more about why it's important to build a corporate culture that doesn't neglect the human angle.

BN: What is the role of company culture in driving business success?

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JH: A company's culture is a critical element of driving business success -- its impact is incredibly hard to overstate, as anyone who has ever experienced a negative company culture will testify. It's not just a fear of bad reviews on Glassdoor, but a recognition of culture’s impact on the bottom line that is making businesses evaluate how people-centric their organizations really are. Culture is the invisible, but foundational thread that ties people to organizational purpose, and can energize and empower employees to create and deliver value. Or it could do just the opposite and lead to low morale, low productivity and a swathe of recruitment and retention challenges.

For company culture to remain effective, and suit the ongoing needs of a business, it needs to shift and evolve. The recent pandemic caused many businesses to accelerate planned transformations, which were usually only successful when partnered with a keen consideration for the impact on company culture. There was an immediate demand for quick decisions in relation to work patterns, processes and goals, and maintaining a strong, cohesive company culture which unified employees.

BN: How can people and an open culture help businesses bolster security?

JH: An open culture where there is mutual respect and trust at all levels, and employees are encouraged to operate in an honest and transparent manner is integral in helping identify potential gaps in security. In many cases the pandemic made businesses act quickly and forced them to operate with increased levels of trust, collaboration and empowerment which delivered their own rewards. Working with our partners, we have found that this mode of operating helps create engaged workforces that are motivated to increase their knowledge and are comfortable to speak up about security gaps, potential risk areas or areas for improvement. By enabling every individual, across functions, geographies and backgrounds, to contribute, organizations can ensure they respond to as many gaps as possible in the threat landscape.

BN: What are the risks of failing to align transformation efforts with people and culture?

JH: A staggering and much cited statistic from Boston Consulting Group in 2021 found that 70 percent of digital transformation initiatives fall short of their objectives. Whilst there are many factors that determine the success or failure of these projects, all of the literature, suggests that people, culture and communication are the most important barriers, or enablers, of transformation success.

It's natural that employees resist change. They do so either consciously or subconsciously, and for a variety of reasons, but these often stem from fear and uncertainty: the fear of being replaced, deprioritized and side-lined.

Effective change is only achieved when its purpose is clearly communicated. It needs to go beyond the technology to explain the outcomes it will enable, for employees, for customers and for long-term success. Having executive buy-in is of course important -- a joined-up approach by the C-level ensures transformation is treated with the appropriate gravity -- but given the breadth of people involved when implementing wholesale transformation, the businesses that foster collaboration and openness across the board are those that are most successful.

BN: How can organizations remove silos and foster collaboration between people, technology and industry?

JH: Silos, whether of information or communication, have long been recognized as barriers to success. They waste resources, kill productivity, lower morale and jeopardize the achievement of goals. A silo mentality or culture can also reflect a narrow vision. Employees who are forced to work in their own specific focus area, are unaware of the bigger picture and can find it difficult to understand or see themselves as having a critical role in end delivery or project success -- often leading to apathy and feeling undervalued.

By encouraging, or even requiring, different teams to work together on projects, using collaboration tools and even removing physical barriers, such as separate computer systems, teams are more able to see the impact of their work and how it helps drive overall business efficiencies and success. Especially when common goals are set and progress is monitored across a full project team.

At Telstra, we believe in the power of collaboration. Our communities provide an opportunity for technology leaders to access a creative and collaborative environment to fast track the development of their business and people. Through ClubCISO and Data Journeys, we've built communities of leaders in technology and digital transformation, data, and security, who share a passion to excel and a thirst for knowledge.

BN: How has the pandemic impacted appetites to implement new technology in the workplace? And what people-centric considerations should the C-suite be making?

JH: As mentioned, the pandemic has completely changed the way we live, learn and work together. The once definitive lines of work-life balance have faded and the way we all view work and the 'workplace' has changed forever. A swift pivot to digital saw technology plans previously projected across several years executed in a matter of months.

Increased technology adoption was largely driven by necessity, and whilst we saw some incredible success from this rapid adaption, the pandemic also demonstrated the value of personal connection and purpose.

Gartner recently forecast worldwide IT spending to total $4.4 trillion in 2022, an increase of four percent from 2021 and since peak-pandemic for most countries. Organizations are continuing to prioritize the adoption of new technology, but couple this with a recent finding from Telstra -- that over 40 percent of businesses believe their IT departments to be insufficiently influential to plan and execute digital transformation efforts in their organization -- and the cultural challenge comes to the fore again.

It's clear that the organizations that emerge stronger from the pandemic era are those that see the opportunity during this sudden change to transform their digital strategy, but also those that use this time to begin a new chapter of digital and cultural innovation at the same time.

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