What’s different about leading through digital transformation?

Knowing what’s different about leading through digital transformation, enables businesses to effectively migrate through digital disruption challenges to digital transformation benefits.

Let’s start with the basics. What level of change are we talking about? During the last 20 years, we have gone from about 1,000 devices connected to the Internet to over 500 billion.

The technology component of this is claimed to be the ‘easy part’. The real challenges now lie in how organisations conduct their business and interface with customers, clients and citizens.

Challenge 1: Dealing with greater volatility and ambiguity – the new normal

Today, virtually every organisation we work with, is going through significant change.

Just think of taxi services such as Uber, food delivery services, such as UberEats and accommodation services such as Airbnb.

In the public sector we, as citizens, are much less tolerant of the multiplicity of overlapping services and slow response times.

We want a ‘one stop shop’, and easy access online, just as we expect from other providers.

This rapid rate of disruption requires each of us to develop greater tolerance for ambiguity, to be adaptive and to model that adaptiveness for others. Volatility is the ‘new normal’.

Leaders need to be able to ‘provide context’ and ensure it all ‘makes sense’ for those they lead.

They need to share what they know and be honest about what they don’t know. Anything else breeds distrust, suspicion and fuels rumour mills.

Some very effective executives we work with set the expectation with their teams that there will be significant organisational changes at least every 15 to 18 months. This ensures these teams anticipate and expect change. It is nothing new or disruptive.

We find that the Hollings Cycle, is also a useful tool for providing context on ‘where we are’. This continuous cycle refers to four components:

  1. Conservation (business as usual, when things are balanced)
  2. Release (where there is some form of crisis or disruption, a new threat or opportunity)
  3. Renewal (the process of transformation)
  4. Exploitation (where organisations gain transformation benefits by deploying new or refreshed resources, and growth).

In today’s environment:

  1. ‘business as usual’ periods tend to be shorter
  2. the ‘release’ cycle tends to happen more often
  3. transformation is required to move at a good pace
  4. the exploitation phase will also likely be shorter

Challenge 2: Developing more networked and flexible capabilities – agilty, trust and teaming

Today’s business models are focused on working across organisations and jurisdictions. For example, in the private sector, businesses that were once competitors, now cooperate in agreed areas.

This operational model needs greater agility, that is, the combination of speed and flexibility. Critical foundations for that agility are the capacity to build trust and be trusted, and the ability to create effective teams.

Stephen M.R. Covey, author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ claims trust is more than a social virtue—it has real economic value. When trust is present, our interaction time with others is reduced and our transaction costs go down. When trust goes up, speed goes up.

Building trust is a critical factor in the development and success of effective leaders and smart organisations.

When working with executive teams, we ask people to think about experiences of working with those you trust—things can happen more quickly. Recall your experiences working with those you don’t trust. This tends to more painful, slower and not much fun.

Trust is about confidence, based on our beliefs in a person’s character and competence. Character can be defined by asking, do they do what they say they are going to do. Competence can be defined by asking, do they deliver the right things, and do this well.

Understanding and using the ‘speed of trust’ enables people and organisations to exercise much greater agility in their actions. The same is true of effective teaming.

Building trust also forms the basis of effective teams. The starting point is people really getting to know each other as people. What motivates them? What are their strengths and vulnerabilities? It’s about understanding and appreciating their intent, integrity, capabilities and the results they achieve (the trust thing).

This lets them overcome the fear of conflict while developing the confidence to force clarity and closure, and the ability to confront difficult issues and focus on collective outcomes.

Challenge 3: Implementing innovative service and product approaches—learning and diversity

Higher consumer and citizen expectations, means that leaders need to figure out how to constantly innovate services and product offerings.

Often we see organisations that have within them people who are real innovators, but they might be ‘hidden’ in the organizational bureaucracy. They might see things a bit differently. Sometimes they are seen as ‘problem employees’; but if their capabilities are harnessed, and then appropriately protected, they can provide a rich vein of creativity.

Leaders now need to be able to co-design with others, inside and outside their organisations, to tackle issues with different perspectives.

The diversity evident amongst the staff is critical here—diversity of thinking, of backgrounds and experiences, of cultures, genders, and life experiences.

Like the ‘speed of trust’, diversity is more than social virtue.

Diversity fuels innovation. Lack of diversity constricts thinking and ‘degrees of freedom’ to draw on different ways of viewing a challenge or issue.

It’s about both recruiting for diversity and then nurturing that diversity within organisations.

Leading through digital disruption is not for the feint hearted

Digitalization today is akin to the industrial revolution in that it is completely reshaping the way organisations are governed and the types of leaders that are needed to manage this complex and ever-changing dynamic.

In my work, I see organisations now creating specific high-level positions related to digitization such as chief digital officer, while also desiring a strong grasp of digital developments in many executive roles.

Leading others today and tomorrow also places much greater emphasis on the need for adaptiveness, providing context for others, being able to implement agility with trust and effective teaming, and creating a culture of, and expectation for, change and innovation.

These are attributes that are now highly valued. We work with our clients to ensure that they have the executive bench strength and capabilities needed to transition from digital disruption to digital transformation.t

If this is something your organization desires, consider giving me a call or just message me on LinkedIn.

Marianne Broadbent

Managing Partner

NGS Global


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