As successful leaders are coming to realise, ‘digital’ isn’t so much a ‘thing’ to be achieved within an organization or industry; but rather, an era, requiring an ever-evolving mindset and intentional investment in the right capabilities.
While the business outcomes keeping executives awake at night haven’t changed drastically over recent years, the organisational skills and experience required to achieve them certainly have. The tried-and-tested approaches that have gotten businesses to where they are today will no longer cut it in the new digital landscape, with its explosion of technology-driven opportunities and its unique set of challenges and concerns. Instead, leaders must focus on making themselves, their teams and their organizations, digitally-ready and able to roll with the increasing pace of change.
From ‘Important’ to ‘Essential’:
Addressing the challenges of digital
We don’t need to look much further than the recent health pandemic to understand why digital readiness is critical right now. COVID-19 has amplified the need for transformation, and made the digital divide blindingly obvious. Those who were digitally-ready have adapted and survived the disruption, whilst those who were ill-equipped to do things differently have fallen by the wayside.
More importantly, perhaps, is the knowledge that COVID-19 won’t be the last major disruption that leaders must navigate- and that these same challenges created by the digital era will present themselves over and over again, leaving enterprises struggling to make the right choices, and the right changes, at the right time - let alone using technology effectively to seize new opportunities for value-creation.
So what are these challenges, and how should organizations respond to them?
Changing customer expectations
With digital, customer expectations have heightened in ways we never could have imagined. Real-time, any-time service, full customer control and consistency of multi-channel experiences are the minimum that customers expect, and they aren’t afraid to take their business elsewhere in order to get it. But these expectations are constantly changing, and organizations can’t afford to stand still.Without any real certainty about customer behaviors and buying patterns, organizations must, instead, be able to move quickly to experiment and pivot to meet these demands. This requires a very different leadership mindset.
In the current landscape, we must consider the impact of speed in three different ways. First, in terms of the time it takes to move a concept from idea to market and creating value, and how we can minimize the length of that cycle. Secondly, is the need for increased speed of decision-making amidst ambiguity, and lastly the increasing speed of change itself and the associated impact on our planning processes. It is no longer realistic to plan a year in advance, and expect all of our assumptions and knowledge to still hold true.
The inability of organizations to adopt new and emerging technologies to unlock value for the business or to make and scale the right tech choices, is one of the biggest challenges facing today’s digital leader. With this, comes the need to understand the impact of technology choices on your teams, your customer and your future decisions, as well as building a clear view of which technology trends are- or are not- important for your own organizational context, in order to leverage technology to your advantage.
As discussed earlier, the ability to respond and pivot has never been more important. Building elasticity and the ability to scale up and down at speed takes time and investment, and must be considered holistically across technology architecture, organizational processes and the workforce. Leaders must even consider areas outside of their direct control to eliminate single points of failure, such as in a single supply chain, for example.
Preparing to win
In order to overcome these challenges, leaders must build the digital capabilities needed to navigate the unknown future.
Through investing in these areas, leaders can successfully lead their enterprise through transformation by enabling:
- A better understanding of technology, allowing them to find ways to use tech to accelerate their business strategy execution and support rapidly evolving business capabilities.
- A flexible architecture that supports experimentation, failure and the rate of change needed to operate in the digital era.
- A simplified operating model, with fluidity of capital and talent.
- The ability to capture weaker signals, cutting through the increased noise of ambiguity, and the need to respond faster.
- The alignment and ability to make a fast decision, arising from transparency and visibility, and the alignment of strategic outcomes to investments.
Leading in the era of digital
The changing demands of the digital era also require a new kind of leadership. To move with the times, this ‘next generation’ of leaders must commit to the continual evolution of their own skills and characteristics as they take their organizations into the future.