Rombald green texture

Changing culture through the speed of digital

15th June 2021

Author: Dr Jaclyn Lee, Singapore University of Technology and Design, Singapore (Author of "Accelerating organisation culture change")

In the beginning

When I first began work as a HR Director at a new university set up by the Singapore Government and MIT, one of my immediate tasks was to define and build a culture of innovation and multi-disciplinary collaboration amongst the faculty, staff, researchers and students. Therein lies one of the greatest culture transformation projects that I have undertaken in my career.

In the initial days of this change journey, things moved very slowly and the manual process of change took a great deal of time. The culture survey that we deployed had very low participation rates. At the same time, we noticed that when we organised culture conversations, not everyone spoke up, meaning that diverse views were not represented.

A fresh look at the project

At around the same time, I had also embarked on a PhD with University of Twente. I began to wonder if this change process could be done in a more effective manner to elicit community wide participation through the use of digital technology. Many conversations with my PhD supervisor, Professor Kuldeep Kumar occurred. Prof Kumar suggested that we could explore the use of Group Decision Support Systems (GDSS) to speed up culture transformation. Systems like these could also eliminate process losses caused by large group interactions. He introduced me to Professor Jos Hillegersberg from Twente, who in turn linked me to a company called Spilter, who owned such a technology. Spilter was prepared to allow me to use their platform for research purposes.

Developing the Culture Acceleration Tool and Methodology (CATM)

I began to work on this Culture Acceleration Tool and Methodology and formed the CATM team comprising of myself, my Learning & Development Team and a student intern from our Department of Information Systems. We came up with the design for this tool and worked with the student programmer and Prof Hillegersberg to configure the Spilter system to be able to conduct culture surveys and hold digital conversations.

Testing in small groups

After a few months, we were able to roll out the tool with small user groups to test and obtain feedback. The main features of the tool include a user-friendly platform for participating in culture surveys, and a decision support system for conducting digital culture conversations. Design iterations were built after each cycle of feedback to ensure that there was ease of use and improved features.  We had around 3 versions of the tool.

Deploying in large scale

The CATM tool was eventually deployed to the university population together with a message from the President. This time around, participation rates for the survey soared to over 70% from each user group and we manage to collect robust culture data. The results of the survey were really encouraging.

Culture conversations and results

Next, we took the senior management team for a half day retreat where we tested the digital brainstorming tool with the group. People were really excited at the idea of sharing their suggestions in real time and anonymously. This took away a great deal of process losses. A total of more than 100 ideas were generated by the team on how to transform the culture to one of innovation and agility. Out of those, 10 ideas were eventually taken away to be implemented. These ideas saw great results after their implementation.

Other similar sessions with different employee groups were subsequently organised. Many other ideas were collected along the way.

Time taken to conduct each brainstorming session was also reduced substantially from 3 hours to 1 hour per session.

Accelerating organization culture change

The results of my work in developing the CATM tool and my other experiences in change management projects led me to write this book, "Accelerating organization culture change" published by Emerald. The book also contains other case studies on change management besides the SUTD story, and also new materials on the digital economy and the future of digital tools.

I hope you will find new insights and ideas for your change journey after reading this book.