17. February 2021

The digitalized organization: a holistic approach


Strategy // Should a friendly handshake go digital too at an entirely digitalized company? The coronavirus has shown just how out of the blue companies can be faced with completely unprecedented challenges. Lots of processes are digitalized, but are they also supported by the people who work there?

Digitalized processes — check. Was there anything else?
Does it simply mean moving dusty old document files into your mailbox archive, all nice and digitalized? Or replacing your tea room with a virtual collaboration platform? Digital transformation involves more than just introducing digital tools; the change processes that seem essential due to technological progress are much more wide-reaching than that. The current Covid-19 pandemic makes abundantly clear how pressure from outside can be such a catalyst for digitalized processes. As the pendulum swings heavily towards digitalization, the limits of this technology also become evident. Because right now, the possibility of face-to-face exchange has been greatly reduced; physical proximity to the people you’re supposed to be meeting with is out. In Switzerland, therefore, the all-important handshake has been dropped. All this means that it isn’t possible to engage socially with any stakeholders. So the question is: how do you deal with unexpected developments, and what does that mean for the success of your business?

Digital transformation — where do we invest?
Company coffers allocated for digitalization have been stuffed full for years. But, often, the budgets are allocated to the IT department alone. Even when measures for digital transformation may initially seem driven by technology, they normally address rather soft factors. In a 2019 study conducted by Etventure on digital transformation in Germany, the major companies surveyed listed the following factors as their top priorities: Flexibilization of working methods (76 per cent); establishing a culture of error/failure (72 per cent); further training programs for employees on the topics of digital know-how and agile methodologies (71 per cent).

Transformation. Now. — How do we get there?
In our experience, a digitalization strategy is an important first step. In order to make a full transformation as a business, the strategy needs to be anchored in four areas: IT, Processes, Organization and Employees. Plenty of light has been shed on digitalization in IT and Processes. Let’s look at it from the employee’s point of view and focus on useful factors for Organization and Employees:


1 A growing focus on customers requires faster speeds and a proximity to customers. Short agreement cycles and rapid decisionmaking processes are necessary. Organizational concepts with a strong focus on self-management, flatter hierarchies, and agile methodologies foster a customer-centered approach.

2 An interdisciplinary and fluid approach to putting together teams with optimized project-specific skills is a key factor in building success and being able to deliver the best possible results.

3 Turning administrators into knowledge workers can be perceived as a form of intellectual stimulation, as a greater degree of mental work and reflection can serve as a source of motivation. The flip side is that this requirement may also cause some stress.

4 High momentum on the market also places new demands on employees. One example of this is the so-called “I-deals”: the practice of negotiating your own customized working conditions and greater opportunity to shape how things stand.

5 In the context of digitalized collaboration, it is also important not to ignore the impact on mental health. Consequently, responsibility is shared between the organization and the employees to organize work in a way that ensures an adequate work-life balance.


The statements above should be considered examples and are not exclusive. The good news: The developments outlined above can be encouraged by employing targeted measures. Much more difficult is the central lever for digital transformation, only partially visible on the surface: the corporate culture.

Corporate culture — stable, but not at a standstill.
Appreciation that digitalization is much more than a purely technological change — indeed, is rather more a cultural change — is gradually taking flight. However, there is no universal answer for establishing a modern world of work 4.0. This is especially true in what are known as VUCA times (times of Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity). One way to start off would be to create company-specific ‘rules of play’ for collaboration (e.g. type of communication and collaboration), establishing a learning culture (e.g. errors are part of the training budget), a clear corporate vision that is transparent about the path to be trod, as well as continuously developing the culture so that it is more values-based (e.g. trust and transparency). A corporate culture is sustained by all employees, but it is decisively shaped by management — so management must be a role model.

To sum up: A holistic approach — same same, but different.
Customer focus starts from the inside. Digital transformation shouldn’t be driven purely by the market; it should also invite employees to take center stage. Despite similar challenges facing companies, there is no all-purpose formula. Instead, it’s about finding your own path as a company and treading it boldly. Therefore, engaging responsibly with new technologies and employees is absolutely vital. A holistic approach not only paves the way for a company’s future viability, it also sets the course for shaping the world in which we live and work consciously, ethi- cally, morally, and therefore sustainably. We assist many different industries and many different cultures with transforming their business. And in doing so we also discover lots of exciting new roads. What’s your approach to the handshake in these times? Perhaps we should come up with an individual solution, together.

Dr. Aylin Ispaylar
Dr. Aylin Ispaylar

Aylin Ispaylar specializes in organizational development, occupational psychology, and the design of new work environments required as a result of technological change.