Everyone wants a digital culture — and everyone has excuses for slow culture change. To be fair, government agencies face particular hurdles to adopt norms of digital culture such as experimentation and adaptability. That’s because it’s difficult to experiment or adapt in cultures where risk aversion and compliance exist by design. But I’ll stop short of saying that risk aversion and compliance are necessarily antithetical to experimentation and adaptability: Defining the sandbox of experimentation creates a safe play zone for innovation and, ultimately, adoption.

In a recent request for information, the White House asked, “How can Federal agencies use shared pools of resources, expertise, and lessons learned to better leverage AI in government?”

My research into digital cultures indicates that communities of practice or learning programs aren’t drivers of change by themselves. Efforts focused on behavior change — specifically, encouraging experimentation in daily work — will increase culture energy. To better leverage generative AI in government, such as Azure OpenAI Service, leaders must:

  • Set the example. Leaders in strong digital cultures are adaptive, creative, and resilient. As a leader, you must be outspoken in your commitment to the digital culture, so create a narrative on generative AI’s contribution to individual, team, and organizational outcomes — yes, individual! You must roll up your sleeves and experiment with generative AI without delay to bring it into your own work. Delegation will not lead to culture change.
  • Create space for experimentation. Ideas that flourish in the sandbox will stay in the sandbox without a paradigm shift. Ritualize experimentation by giving just a few minutes a day to employees to pause and try new ways of working. Can generative AI help an employee understand the complex ecosystem of partner agencies? Can it summarize, templatize, and generally streamline time-consuming documentation? Contribute from the top down by challenging assumptions, including old policies, that curb the art of the possible without meaningful value to mission success.
  • Tell stories of adaptability. Storytelling guides culture change along its intended path. Employees want real examples of how generative AI changes work. Tell them how colleagues are adopting the technology in everyday tasks, invite them to find the adjacent possible, and then celebrate those small behavior changes to encourage continuation on the right path.

Culture change is slow, but the adoption of generative AI is accelerating. Chances are that your employees are experimenting, with or without your blessing. Create your sandbox, celebrate safe play, and enable it to change everyday work. Generative AI will be a great use case to bring your organization a step closer to digital culture.

Forrester clients can book a guidance session with me to make a customized plan for culture change. Here are some reports relevant to the conversation:

Special thanks to J. P. Gownder for lending expertise on generative AI. Check out his related blog post, AI In Collaboration Tools Is A Tech Problem In Need Of A Human Solution.

And thanks to Katy Tynan for co-creating Forrester’s culture change cycle. To learn more on how to set the example as a change leader, check out her report, Be The Change Leader Your Organization Needs.