Digital Transformation and Leadership

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N. Venkat Venkatraman

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Industries Will be Disrupted and Traditional Business Models will be Obsolete

This is big news, apparently. WSJ reported today (April 27, 2017):

“In a Harvard Business Review survey released Wednesday, at Microsoft Corp.’s Digital Difference event in New York, 80% of 783 executives and senior managers said they believe their industries will be disrupted by digital technology within the next three years.

Roughly half said they expect conventional business models in their industries to be obsolete by 2020.

Yet nearly a quarter of these businesses said “few if any” of their current operations rely on digital technologies. Of the rest, some had a few digital tools online, while still others said their products and services depended on them.

What’s holding them back? As many as 54% of survey respondents said restructuring the way their businesses are organized and managed is the biggest obstacle (emphasis added by me)

“The need for restructuring results from the fact that digital requires collaboration across traditional silos,” Harvard researchers said. The structural changes varied by industry, they said, running the gamut from “shifting digital revenue streams from a central unit” to a “heavy reliance on cross-functional project teams for new initiatives.”

But managers and employees tend to resist these changes (emphasis mine), putting a damper on digital transformation, the survey found.

Do we need yet another survey?

In my view, we don’t need yet another survey to tell us that (1) digital disruption is immediate and significant; and (2) current organizations are ill-equipped to transform because their structure is rigid or people don’t change or culture is limiting etc.

No more excuses | Digital transformation is the single most important challenge for a leader.

The single most important challenge for leaders today is digital transformation. That means, willing to let go of drivers of past success and embrace future as combinations of opportunity and uncertainty.

Seven Traits of Transformative Leadership; they do apply for digital transformation

1. The leader don’t believe that the future is an extrapolation of the past; don’t accept that past success is guarantee of future success. (Future Shift)

2. The leaders are prepared to challenge status quo, stress-test the organizational model against future states and are persuaded by data and analytics (Analytic Mindset)

3. The leaders are profoundly uncomfortable with status quo and steady state because it leads to hubris and are impatient with lack of perceived urgency (Agility)

4. The leaders are comfortable in settings where they learn from people with far different viewpoints and disciplinary expertise (Diversity of Thoughts)

5. They recognize the importance of T-shaped balance between breadth and depth and that areas of depth evolve over time. (Proactive Reinvention)

6. They are comfortable in settings where the focus is on framing questions first rather than jumping to find answers quickly (Frame Questions First)

7. They help their followers develop skills so that they are always marketable in the labor market–given the rapid automation of jobs likely in the coming decades. (Benevolent Guide)

The seven dimensions are not meant to be mutually exclusive; there are inevitable overlap. Collectively, they bring out the characteristics of leaders who are prepared to boldly guide companies through this critical juncture of shifting from industrial age to digital age.

Your Leadership Test in Two Ways

  1. Look at the leaders you work for. How well do they stack up against these seven?
  2. Look at yourself; be critical and honest. How well do you stack up against the seven?

What do you need to become the leader to get your organization from status-quo? What could you do to propel digital transformation?

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