Technically, they’re right.
I’m talking about Gartner and its new forecast, that “… by 2021, CIOs Will Be as Responsible for Culture Change as Chief HR Officers.”
They’re technically correct. Chief HR Officers aren’t responsible for culture change right now, and won’t be in 2021. Chief Information Officers also won’t be responsible for it in 2021, making them exactly as responsible as CHROs.
Why am I so sure? It’s because of the nature of culture, discussed here many times and codified in both Leading IT and Bare Bones Change Management. Culture is the learned behavior people exhibit in response to their environment. Among employees, most of the environment each employee responds to is the behavior of the employees with whom they work.
And not all of these employees have an equal impact. Those who supervise and manage have more impact than those who don’t.
So today, tomorrow, and in 2021, employees’ managers will be the ones who have to change the culture, accomplishing this by changing their own behavior. Not HR, not the CIO. Every manager in the company.
Gartner’s forecast begins with the proposition that, “Successful Digital Transformation Initiatives Must Be Accompanied by Culture Changes.”
Which isn’t wrong. No matter how you define “digital,” it can’t succeed without a radical change to most business cultures.
The illogic starts shortly thereafter an assertion that the mission and values of an organization usually fall into the remit of HR.
There’s only one counterargument, but it’s compelling: WHAT?!?!
HR often does take charge of the dreaded Mission Statement. But, were you to take a random sample of corporate mission statements and their actual corporate missions, you’d find the correlation between the two is at best a miniscule statistical artifact, nothing more.
Asserting that HR is responsible for the corporate mission disqualifies Gartner as an advisor regarding How Things Work. (If you’re looking for a qualified advisor you know who to call …)
As for HR owning culture change, yes, smart CEOs, having superior CHROs, will consult with them and involve them in operationalizing the digital culture change. And increasingly, assuming they’ve also hired superior CIOs, they’ll consult with them, involving them in defining what a digital culture looks and feels like.
But consultation and involvement aren’t the same thing as delegation and authority, and any CEO willing to delegate the business culture to anyone else is misguided — misguided because it abrogates their single most important responsibility.
And more misguided because it can’t be done. Business culture is the learned behavior employees exhibit in response to their environment and in particular in response to their line manager’s behavior.
The company’s management culture is the learned behavior line managers exhibit in response to their environment, and in particular in response to their managers’ behavior.
Which in turn is a response to middle management behavior, which is connected to the ankle bone, which is connected to the thigh bone, which ossium inexorably ends up in the CEO’s office for the same reason that when you fall, the direction you go is down:
That’s how the world is put together.
But the fallacy starts upstream from there, with the culture change needed most for digital transformations to succeed. It’s in the executive suite, as I recently explained (he modestly pointed out) on CIO.com (“Digital transformation’s dark secret,” 10/31/2018). Neither the CIO (or Chief Digital Officer if your company has one) nor CHRO is going to lead an executive suite culture change.
Who is? Gartner needs to pick up the clue phone about this, because (it’s time for a blinding flash of the obvious) that’s the CEO’s job.
What’s the essence of the executive suite culture change? That, of course, depends on the organization in question and its current situation. One place to look is something we discussed last week: the lack of respect given to what are usually called “intangible benefits.”
Hidden among the benefits of digital strategies and transformations is a radical change in management thinking. In the industrial age of business, tangible, which is to say direct financial benefits, usually in the form of cost-cutting, was what mattered. Everything else was a means to that end.
Digital strategies, in contrast, focus, or at least should focus, on competitive advantage and what gives it to you. While in the end tangible financial benefits do happen, they’re a byproduct, nothing more.
So here’s the scorecard: Gartner is right about digital transformations requiring a change in corporate culture. I’m happy for Gartner that its analysts finally figured this out.
As for how to make it happen? Maybe, if its analysts start to read KJR, they’ll figure that out too someday.
They’ll probably take credit for it when they do.