A digital transformation is an adaptive challenge
Leaders in a digital transformation need to stop telling and yelling
Being truly digital implies that the entire organization has embraced the digital era. Which attitudes and skills do you need to accomplish this? And how do you build new leadership that rewards innovation, experimentation, learning and human needs centered design thinking?
Leaders should use multiple perspectives
Moving from doing digital to being digital is a challenge for everyone in an organization, first of all for those in leadership positions. Their most important task is to think integrally and switch their perspective constantly. When you want to create digital DNA, it might be tempting to focus solely on technology. But existing routines of collaborating, managing finance and risk, serving clients, (co-) developing new services and managing performance are all affected by such a transformation, and therefore you need to include these and other perspectives simultaneously, not chronologically.
Leadership should be distributed
In a digitally transformed organization both relevant data and authority are decentralized; they are no longer primarily accessible to those highest in rank. Effectively, this flattens the hierarchy. A ‘default’ command and control leadership style was already ineffective in the past but it definitely won’t work here, as management simply does not have all the answers anymore. Leadership is now distributed, and as an appointed leader you only intervene when requested or when necessary. Your key roles are to compose the best possible teams and to coach them. Within these teams there might be a formal leader, but this person should excel at engaging and empowering, not at ‘telling and yelling’. Research shows that one of the reasons high-performing teams perform so well is that for each task a different leader is assigned; the most capable person for that specific job. An organization that operates likes this creates space for continuous learning and human needs centered design thinking.
A digital transformation is an adaptive challenge
For every leader in the organization a digital transformation is also an adaptive challenge: they are part of the problem as well as –hopefully- of the solution. As people, we are naturally inclined to preserve and cherish what we have. This is a good thing, but clearly at odds with a –disruptive- digital transformation. To handle this, some organizations work with separate agendas, with an A agenda that concerns running current operations, while the B agenda concerns building the future organization. A more radical and ultimately necessary solution is to work with two CEOs. Next to the Chief Executive, a Chief Entrepreneur should be appointed. As co-CEOs they need to balance exploitation with exploration and share power equally. The Chief Entrepreneurial Officer typically has a ‘garage mindset’ (not: establishment) and prioritizes for deliberate experimentation (not: ‘in control statements’).
Do not rush
The urgency that many businesses feel causes them to rush, to transform ‘superficially’. That destroys the trust of your employees which is essential for speed. The better option is to make time for participation, to be transparent about ‘the unknown unknowns’ and to offer alternatives to people who feel they may not be able to cope with the changes. Perhaps it helps to know that only 11% of organizations believe they are ready to build the organization of the future (Source: Human Capital Trends report 2017). Becoming a ‘Talent Magnet’ is part of the answer. Research performed by Deloitte and MIT Sloan Management shows that the more digitally transformed your organization is, the more appealing it is for the young talent that will help you lead the digital transformation.
Structure aims to provide managers and employees security and clarity, but if that structure is not also quickly adjustable to new circumstance these provisions are misleading. Hence, agility is the necessary correction for too much stability. The traditional vertical silo structure needs to be complemented by an equally powerful horizontal one in which teams aren’t fixed. Also the career framework must reflect the organization’s agile structure, which means that it should offer enough perspective for employees, but at the same time is adaptable to future developments. If only because 50% of the jobs that are currently relevant in your organization might be redundant within 5 years from now.
Corporate reflection mechanisms are essential; be self-critical and be confident!
Becoming a truly digital organization is not something you can finish next year and then cross off your list. It is an iterative and ongoing process: you need to develop new solutions for unknown problems constantly, and therefore implement ample corporate reflection mechanisms to stay in tune. Using multiple perspectives, being aware of your own strengths and shortcomings whilst demonstrating trust in your team are all essential to keep your organization in a constant state of readiness. For current and new, digital or analog challenges.