The following is an excerpt from our white paper series, Becoming Digital Get your copy of the series here.


Digital technologies offer new possibilities for generating value in the form of previously unimagined products, services, and solutions. Making the most of these possibilities comes not just from having access to the right resources, suitable skills and effective business processes. Research suggests that organizational culture — in the form of values, beliefs, attitudes and practices — plays an important role in success.

But what are the characteristics that help a digital organization succeed?

Our study of successful digital firms reveals cultures that support organizational performance in a data-intensive, highly-connected and fast-changing environment.

It is common to think of cultures in terms of their more visible artifacts like buildings, offices and facilities, style of dress and recognizable logos. For instance, much attention focuses on the fancy corporate office complexes, bright, colorful and open workspaces, free personal services, upscale cafeteria food and casual jeans-and-hoodie uniforms. Although these visible organizational features may make life more comfortable for employees, they are not the source of new ways of working or higher levels of performance. More important are the organization’s underlying values, which may be manifest through these visible markers. Values lie at the root of distinct practices that, in turn, influence performance.

We analyzed cultural accounts of both high-performing digital firms and high performing digital units of traditional firms. We characterize a “digital” culture in terms of values and prominent behavioral practices (values-in-practice). Our analysis uncovered a small set of common values, which collectively shape subsequent choices and practices throughout these organizations.


They value having big aspirations to change the world, one customer at a time, and using technology to get there.


They value action orientation, preferring to move fast and iterate rather than waiting to have all the data or all the answers before acting.


They value open and broad engagement with diverse sources of information, rather than being secretive or selective in seeking and sharing information.


They value having high levels of discretion to engage flexibility in productive and experimental activities, more than relying on controls and formally structured coordination.

Click here to download your copy of “Becoming Digital” series.

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Author: Deborah Soule

Dr. Deborah Soule conducts research on the interaction between technology and organizations, with particular attention to the dynamics of learning, collaboration and change. She has over 15 years of experience leading research and development projects in both industrial and academic settings, including MIT and Harvard, plus ten years of client-facing responsibility as an organizational and technical subject matter expert. Earlier in her career, she worked on product development programs for a large chemical company in Europe.
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