“Without cultural change, digital transformation cannot be successful.”
An interview with bestselling author Sebastian Purps-Pardigol
Digital transformation is more than just the introduction of new technologies. If technological change is to be successful, it must be accompanied by cultural change. The way in which people collaborate is changing and so too, therefore, are interpersonal relationships. Organisations should take this opportunity to reshape and improve cooperation, Sebastian Purps-Pardigol says, and recommends “leadership with the brain”, so that people can surpass themselves again and organisations can be even better at unfolding their potential. In this interview, the organisational consultant and bestselling author reveals the distinguishing features of this type of leadership culture and the role played in it by modern neuroscience.
You advise organisations to show more humanity as they deal with advancing digitisation. Why?
Purps-Pardigol: Many executives believe that in digital transformation they need to focus on introducing new technologies. But it doesn’t stop there. The world is changing at breakneck speed. New products, services and business models are emerging all the time. And if you don’t develop them yourself, someone else will get ahead of you. Organisations need to respond ever more rapidly and to surpass themselves again and again. But to do so, the staff need to experience their organisation as an environment that is good for them. That’s where elements such as connectedness, codetermination, meaningfulness and freedom from fear come in. A leadership culture that enables better quality interpersonal relationships doesn’t only lead to healthier and happier employees, but it also makes the organisation more successful, as those people can contribute more of the potential that lies within them, their own creativity.
What does the reality in organisations look like? What have you found in your work as an organisational consultant?
Purps-Pardigol: In many organisations, people are still regarded as objects, as human resources. There are still executives who believe that better results can be achieved through pressure and fear. In some cases, in the short term, that might indeed work. However, in the medium and long term, overcoming the current challenges will take more than that, namely appreciation, codetermination and meeting one another on genuinely equal terms. To this end, organisations and executives need to be asking themselves how their employees are doing and what they need to feel happy and be able and willing to get fully involved.
What role does neuroscience play in this?
Purps-Pardigol: Modern neuroscience can help us rediscover and apply ancient knowledge that we carry within us anyway. For instance, the knowledge that connectedness is good for us. Without connectedness, a person’s brain will go into neural overstimulation. Many executives are still of the opinion even now that there’s no room for such aspects in an organisation. I like to see modern neuroscience as a Trojan horse for opening the minds of these alpha animals to something that is deeply human – to basic neurological needs such as the connectedness mentioned, but also, for instance, to codetermination. Some people are entirely unaware of just what they are getting up to in the brains of their staff. But once they have understood their actions and the consequences, they can then make a conscious decision for or against certain behaviours, thereby helping their employees, and by extension their organisation, to surpass themselves.
How can organisations bring about the cultural change necessary for successful digitisation? Is there a recipe for success?
Purps-Pardigol: There’s no blueprint. Each organisation needs to find its own way. But at the beginning of it there will always be a critical number of executives who are ready and willing to work on themselves and on a cultural change in the organisation, and who will be rewarded when they invest the necessary time and energy – with more loyal and satisfied staff and with positive trends in the key performance indicators. Communication plays a central role here. Digitisation will only be successfully managed by those who take their staff with them on the journey. Digital transformation, after all, is not just a new project, but a fundamental change in how people in an organisation collaborate.