Leistungen // Laterales Management

does digitali-sation first imply cultural change for companies?

Major economic changes, such as the use of steam power (railways) in the 19th century or the ubiquitous introduction of electric power in the 20th century, have always led to social changes. People have changed their ways of working together, communicating and sharing resources. We refer to this as social innovation.

Many companies today are talking about digital transformation but what do they actually mean by it? Weleda is a company with 1,400 staff manufacturing natural cosmetics. It is based in Bad Boll in Baden-Württemberg, where it grows herbs under stringent organic conditions using traditional agricultural methods and processes them to produce natural cosmetics. Bad Boll is situated in a romantic, rural location at the foot of the Ostalb. Does this company with its focus on anthroposophy need to ‘go digital’?

Digital transformation is social innovation

Sometimes, the answer to such a question is quite trivial: Weleda wished to organise a staff meeting for all employees from their various locations in 2016. Getting people to a specific destination at a specific time requires a certain amount of organisation. The company had acquired a digital chat program, which previously led a hidden Sleeping Beauty-type existence. It was decided to wake the program from its slumber and use it to organise the meeting for the first time instead of using emails: which group will organise what, who is to be informed and how are they to be informed? 1,400 people need options for overnight accommodation, for instance. It’s a major logistical task.

The result: digital organisation worked more effectively for the event and there were far fewer failures than before. That's how those organising the meeting learnt from a specific example how the use of digital media can pay dividends. The chat program is now used for other Weleda projects. As a consequence of the experience, the company has filled a new position, that of a “company architect”. His role is to spread digital structures in the company.

Sometimes, digitalisation needs to start with small first steps

The example is of interest in various respects. Customer networking is the most frequent topic raised when digitalisation projects are discussed. However, a company can only achieve digital transformation as soon as digital processes work internally. As long as communication is managed internally through personal contacts, telephone calls and emails, it will be very difficult to achieve a digitalised supplier-company-customer process chain.

The example of Weleda shows that digitalisation sometimes needs to start with small first steps to become accepted culturally speaking. Apart from this, the people in the organisation developed and implemented the program themselves. This is classic organisational development: ensuring those affected become involved in the processes of change. Of course, Weleda is still at the very beginning of their corporate digitalisation process. Other organisations have to find their bearings here much more rapidly and consequently establish start-ups or set up internal projects to deal with this. However, the example of Weleda shows that social innovations are more important than technical innovations. They now have the cultural preconditions for additional changes, which may now take place more rapidly and with less chance of any backsliding.