Leadership and the digital agenda

Digital transformation has become a key priority for boardrooms across the globe. Such transformation means different things to different organisations but typically involves the digitisation of processes, services, products, customer experiences and more. It also encompasses making better use of data and analytics across the organisation.

While new technology is brought in to bring improvements, poor implementation can mean the opposite happens. Leaders must ensure a number of structures, processes and people are in place if it is to bring the espoused benefits which then positively impact the bottom line. It is about far more than appointing a chief digital officer but rather ensuring ownership and responsibility for digital initiatives is distributed across the organisation.

To successfully drive digital transformation, leaders must ensure they have the right talent and skills in place at all levels. We’re already hearing the phrase ‘born-digital’ being used in discussions about leadership capabilities. While those who have grown up in the digital age often come with a pre-programmed mindset and many of the desired technical skills, a broader base of expertise than this is required. Like all good leaders, they must be visionary and able to see the wider picture. Equally as important though is an ability to communicate, influence, network and build relationships.

Part of the remit is to assess the digital readiness of their teams and the entire workforce. It is a case of distinguishing between those who already have such skills and those who need support and development in these areas and to identify where these skills gaps can only be filled by hiring the expertise required.

When it comes to supporting individuals who are less well versed in these skills, consider a reverse-mentoring scheme where junior or younger members of staff mentor senior ones. The more traditional approach can also be applied by using senior people to mentor the digital-savvy who lack management and leadership experience but who could well turn into the leaders of tomorrow.

Digital transformation will undoubtedly impact how organisations operate in a multitude of ways. Customer service teams will find themselves grappling with the challenges of a 24/7 customer base and new rules of fulfilment while HR will needs to learn how to maximise the value of the people and performance data it holds to help managers make speedier and more insightful decisions. The challenges are extremely diverse so leaders need to appoint digital champions in each department who will take ownership of the transformation process.

Executing a digital transformation can be tumultuous as not everyone will readily embrace the changes. Leaders must communicate what the overhaul will mean to individual departments and teams as well as to the organisation and its mission. They must simultaneously excite and reassure everyone. And while they must point to the future, they must never dictate it.


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