Right culture vital for competitiveness, warns Microsoft

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Without the right culture to support productivity, innovation and employee satisfaction, organisations risk being left behind, research finds



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30 January 2020 | 0

Irish organisations undergoing major transformation must develop a strong innovative culture to ensure growth, attract and retain talent, and empower employees to be more productive, Microsoft has advised.

According to findings from new Microsoft research that builds upon previous studies on the future of work and exploring the role of technology and culture in successful digital transformation, more than three quarters (76%) of organisations with strong innovative digital cultures expect double digit growth in next five years. Furthermore, 76% of business leaders see an innovative culture as key to retaining talent. It was also found that innovative cultures empower two thirds (66%) of employees to share ideas, with almost the same proportion (60%) finding it easier to collaborate.

The research was conducted among 9,000 employees and managers across 15 European countries, including 600 respondents in Ireland.




Culture support

Previous research from 2018 showed that digital culture is a crucial element to enable employees to be innovative, engaged, and productive. Then, 84% of employees felt their company had a weak digital culture and therefore, not surprisingly said Microsoft, 93% of Irish employees working in such environs felt they had low productivity.

The new research builds upon the earlier findings by looking at the importance of innovative cultures within organisations to enable employees to be more productive, said Microsoft. An innovative culture, the company explained, is where new approaches to problems are welcome, and where new ideas get support and employees feel empowered to raise issues or make mistakes.

“Two years ago, Microsoft Ireland demonstrated the positive impact of strong digital culture, which enables employees to do and achieve more within organisations,” said Aisling Curtis, commercial director, Microsoft Ireland. “For successful business growth, Irish business leaders must create a culture that empowers employees to innovate and collaborate both internally and externally with partners. More importantly, they need to give them the freedom to focus, make mistakes, and speak up if there is an issue. This will not only drive growth but help retain the best talent and attract future employees that can drive an organisation forward in an age of transformation.” 

Transformation pressure

When it comes to transformation, the research indicates that the vast majority (93%) of Irish organisations, compared to 92% across the EU, have faced changes in the past few years to business models, products, business strategy or regulatory environment. In this context, leaders see cultural change as their chief challenge in driving transformation. Despite this, in Ireland only one third (33%) of business leaders see getting their organisation’s culture right as their number one priority.

The report highlights that culture is not just about values and processes, but rather the best way to change culture is to change the way people work together. Thus, says Microsoft, the research shows the crucial role that an innovative culture can play when it comes to an organisation’s growth, and how it can help win the war for talent.

“When you take into account our full employment economy, having 79% of employees planning to stay in their jobs, versus 62% working in less innovative cultures, is huge. That alone is far reaching,” Aisling Curtis, Microsoft (Image: Microsoft)

Speaking to TechPro, Curtis said that attracting and retaining talent is made much easier by having a healthy culture where personnel feel empowered to be at their most productive. This not only allows organisations to attract talent, but critically to retain it. In a full employment economy, she said, being uncompetitive in the war for talent can have a serious impact.

Curtis admits it was something of a surprise to see the magnitude of the impact of a dynamic, innovative culture, citing those organisations that have successfully cultivated an innovative culture perceive themselves as more than twice as likely to expect double digit growth.

“That is huge.” she said.

“When you take into account our full employment economy, having 79% of employees planning to stay in their jobs, versus 62% working in less innovative cultures, is huge. That alone is far reaching,” said Curtis.

Key steps

Curtis said the research and experience working with customers had highlighted three key steps to establishing and maintaining a healthy digital, innovative culture.

Firstly, organisations must remove silos and facilitate collaborative working across the organisation, sharing information with both partners and customers.

In Ireland, the research found, nearly three quarters (71%) of business leaders in an organisation with an innovative culture see overall collaboration as crucial, versus 49% of companies without.  In particular, 86% of Irish business leaders see collaborating across teams as critical, with 81% in high innovative cultures claiming that collaboration with external partners is vital to their business. By contrast, only 42% of leaders in low innovative said they see value in working with external partners.

Secondly, employees working in an innovative culture are more likely to say that teams are empowered by leadership to make decisions, that they have the latitude to tackle challenges in their own way, and 70% say that making mistakes is accepted. 

In Ireland, 71% of employees working in an innovative culture feel confident to speak up if there is an issue at work. Furthermore, more than two thirds (68%) assert it is easy to get support when required. By contrast, only half feel it is easy to speak up or make a mistake in an organisation with a low innovative or learning culture.

Thirdly, employees who feel enabled to focus their energy on the task at hand are three times more likely to say they are happy with their job.

Techno stress

However, even in highly colaborative environments, there can be problems.

Curtis highlighted the phenomenon of ‘techno stress’.

The research found that 60% of Irish employees feel they are losing up to 61% of their time weekly due to issues such as unnecessary interruptions (24%), inefficient meetings (15%), searching for information, (12%) or seeking approvals (12%).

Perhaps surprisingly, only 13% of employees admit to losing time due to self-digital distraction (e.g. scanning social media during work hours). Digital distraction was identified in previous Microsoft research as one of the symptoms of techno stress, whereby in poor digital cultures, workers suffer burnout because they feel tethered to the job around-the-clock.

However, the research found that when managers empower their employees in an innovative culture through technology and giving them space, Irish employees report a 36% reduction in time lost.

Given the fluid nature of innovative cultures, when asked if they were hard to manage, Curtis said if properly established, with good supports, relevant role models, and continuous education, it should be self-sustaining and governing. 

While this can be an issue, she said, the risks of not doing it are greater, especially with regard to loss of people, and unproductive environments that frustrate existing personnel people further. 

TechCentral Reporters

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