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[ARTICLE] Coronavirus is Driving a Digital Culture Shift in Your Organisation: Here’s how to Understand and Influence it

Alistair Heath, Digital Adoption Lead at Mars offers an industry guest article looking at how coronavirus is driving a new culture shift in business and how you can take ownership. Alistair will also be presenting at The Online Digital Transformation Conference on June 3 & 4. Link at the end of the article.

Alistair Heath, Digital Adoption Lead, Mars

It seems like a long time ago now, but back in September 2018 I joined the Digital Adoption Team in Mars to help support the Digital Transformation of the company by driving the adoption of Digital Tools and Ways of Working. Little did I know at the time, but some 18 months later, vast numbers of our workforce would have to work from home as CoViD-19 spread from country to country forcing governments to issue social-distancing policies. Remote Working, powered by Digital, became more important than ever.

Today, as the disease takes hold across the world, there has never been a more disruptive and arguably transformative time for businesses and no-where is this transformation being felt so strongly as in our corporate cultures. Whilst corporate cultures are changing in all aspects, it is the rapid digitisation of these cultures that is of interest to many. This is in part because Digital allows you to go faster and the risk is that, without proper planning, we accelerate digital ways of working which do not set our organisations up for post-CoViD success. If the Coronavirus is going to drive the Digitisation of corporate cultures, we must ensure that we not only digitise our cultures quickly but that we digitise the right bits of them.

What this article aims to do is to give you the tools to analyse the shift in your corporate culture, so you can go from reactive digitisation of your business to proactively planning the digital work practices you want to emerge from this crisis. To do this we must first understand and then influence our corporate cultures and this article will give you a framework to help you do just that. It is called the Beliefs, Behaviours, Tools Framework and you can watch a video from the 2019 Digital Transformation Conference above where I talk about it in more depth.

What is the Beliefs, Behaviours and Tools Framework?

Quite simply, Beliefs, Behaviours and Tools are three levers that influence and drive not just corporate culture, but culture in general. In fact you could make a strong argument that the three of them together literally are culture. With any change that you observe, or wish to implement in your organisation, these levers provide three great lenses through which to think. Let’s break each of them down in a bit more detail.


Human culture is massively influenced by the tools and technologies it has at its disposal. Looking back on pre-history, we define periods like the Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age by the metals (and hence weapons) available to our ancestors. Even the line between pre-history and history is defined by the invention of another tool, writing. We cannot escape defining human culture by the tools available to it!

If we were to divide the last century of workplace culture by tools, what would we find? Certainly, from the 1990s onwards we started living in the “Internet Age”, but even within that there is a massive shift from basic communication tools like email to a plethora of tools that add more collaborative elements such as video-conferencing, screensharing and the co-authoring of documents.

For many companies, the Coronavirus crisis has sparked or accelerated this switch from merely communication-enabling tools to Digital Collaboration tools. This poses a tough question though: are the collaboration tools we have adopted in haste the tools that will set us up for success in the long-term? Fortunately in Mars, like with many companies, we had adopted Microsoft Teams as standard before the Coronavirus crisis, but some companies will have to make the decision to standardise long after their employees have developed their own preferences. For this reason, what seems like an expedited digital shift now, could become a difficult change to resolve in the longer-term.

To gain an understanding in this area, start by speaking to employees and capturing the tools they are using, particularly if they exist outside any standard tool ecosystem you may have. More importantly, we must understand what employees are doing with these tools and how they are using them to drive value. This links the usage of tools directly to corporate strategy and therefore provides an efficient way to think about the Digital Tools a company needs for success.


For millennia, Countries, Religions and Organisations have tried to tap into the increased productivity of people with shared beliefs and values. In many large companies this became a significant point as they started globalising in the Twentieth Century, working with employees and customers of many different cultures. Even regardless of scale and global presence, many companies outline a set of shared values that are designed to influence corporate culture. Mars for instance has the Five Principles. We might describe these as explicit beliefs, as they are often initially created by leadership and shared in a top-down fashion.

There are of course also implicit beliefs, ideas that members of an organisation share that have grown organically from the bottom-up and they may not live up to the virtuous values set by leadership. A significant event like the Coronavirus crisis will inevitably spark the creation of new beliefs as people adapt to the new circumstances, for example the belief that “my job cannot be done from home”. For anyone working in the manipulation of physical matter rather than information, the previous belief may be true but thinking this way stops the creativity which may be necessary to redefine how that individual creates value for the organisation.

So how do we understand the new beliefs emerging in our organisations? Again, the answer is simple, we speak to individuals and, with no judgement, we listen to their thoughts and concerns. In Mars, one of the beliefs I have heard from many of my fellow employees is a belief that “we have a role to play in helping the world through this crisis”. That’s incredible, what was even more amazing was that three weeks after the crisis started, the UK Leadership teams had announced that Associates could take 2 hours a week to volunteer with charities, the NHS and other initiatives supporting people at this time. They listened to the Implicit Beliefs emerging and they worked out how to turn it into an Explicit Belief.


Behaviours as a part of culture are a bit odd. They are more tangible than beliefs and values, but less quantifiable than the usage of tools. In short they emerge when someone routinely acts on a belief (consciously or not) using a tool, and for this reason they play a key role in corporate cultures. If “culture eats strategy for breakfast”*, behaviours are where culture is translated into action against strategy. It is for this reason that organisations have tried to influence the behaviour of their employees, either indirectly through Beliefs and Tools, or directly.

Historically, organisations have tried to instil soft-skill behaviours such as negotiation and communication. The Lominger competencies represent good examples of these. In recent years however, organisations have sought to instil more specific behaviours such as agile and user-centered design. These represent a challenge for employees as soft-behaviours, such as conflict-management, are often easily understandable and applicable to any kind of role. It is clear to see what it means to use Prioritisation skills in varied roles from Supply to Sales. Digital Behaviours, in contrast, are not so immediately applicable. Knowing how to do a Sales role in an agile way for example is not immediately clear and are very much open to interpretation.

The Digital Behaviour changes caused by CoViD, are equally as ambiguous. For instance, it is not immediately clear what it means for a team to collaborate whilst working from home. In this ambiguity, without prompts to take the time to reflect on new Digital behaviours, employees will often start by digitising the behaviours they previously demonstrated in the office. Physical whiteboards will be replaced by virtual whiteboards, or worse a camera pointed at a piece of paper. In this example more effective Digital Behaviours could emerge such as co-authoring a Powerpoint deck, allowing the work to get done to a higher standard. In many instances, this requires a complete rethink of many of the behaviours that have enabled productivity in the past.

So how do we understand the behaviour changes going on at this challenging time? Once again, it comes down to speaking to employees and understanding how they are coping and how they are continuing to do their work. Effective enterprises might even embrace social tools to capture effective new ways of working (and even failed attempts) to support the design of new behaviours.

Some Final Thoughts… For Now

In the above article you’ve seen how Corporate Culture is comprised of changes in Beliefs, Behaviours and Tools and this is particularly true as organisations undergo Digital Transformations of their cultures. As these transformations are rapidly accelerated due to the Coronavirus, there has never been a more important time to fully understand and influence the Digital Culture trends in our organisations and the frameworks above provides three great lenses or levers through which to do this.

You will notice though that my advice for understanding each of these aspects of culture has been the same: talk to people, listen to people. This is for a simple reason; culture is owned and driven collectively by people. We say that Corporations have cultures, but the truth may be that cultures have corporations.

This article has mostly focused on understanding Digital Culture Shift but influencing Digital Culture Shift is very similar. We influence it by listening to employees and encouraging them to think about how they can transform their own roles and work. In Mars, the Digital Adoption Team have been helping Associates discover the digitised version of their roles for a long time and, in my next article, I’ll share some of the techniques we’ve developed to help Associates on this journey.

For now though, I hope you are able to stay safe and that the above article has provided you with some clarity on the Digital Culture Shift within your organisation, team and life.

*This quote is attributed to Peter Drucker but it’s a really weird quote because, despite its prevalence, it’s not written in any of his literature. It’s a great symbol of how widely spoken, vital and unquantifiable corporate culture is.

Join Alistair at the Online Digital Transformation Conference taking place June 3 & 4. Register for free here.

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