chairman at GHD Digital.
Boldness means different things to different people. It may evoke thoughts of fortitude, fearlessness, and swagger in some. For me it means knowing your limits, admitting when you don’t know the answer and choosing to think about things in new ways and take action where others hesitate. Having an MBA will not help with this.
I have an MBA, so I speak from experience when I say that despite the benefits of pursuing and obtaining an MBA – and there are many – applying the knowledge you have learned about traditional management models does not help because it is no longer being valid. With the growth of digital adoption, the ground rules and assumptions of business have fundamentally changed. An example is the assumption that companies will operate in an incremental environment, with growth of perhaps 10% over the previous year. This is no longer true. Digital technologies have fundamentally transformed the way products and services are created, distributed and consumed – and they continue to do so at a rapid pace. Growth is faster and the lifespan of companies is shorter. What does that mean for us as leaders?
I have witnessed many companies boldly embracing digital disruption and embarking on transformation journeys enabled by new technologies. They are large and can be complex and expensive. But well done, they are worth the investment. New business models are emerging. Products and services found. Customer experience improved. Increased employee productivity. Revenues skyrocket.
The companies I’ve seen fail to reach their full potential have one thing in common: their leaders did everything but change themselves. These are the key shifts in thinking needed to get the most out of any digital investment. They reflect the evolution of my own thinking, from digital newbie ten years ago to digital evangelist today.
1. Digital is not about technology. Digital is a business strategy.
Digital is not something you have to hand over to an IT department. It’s not about digitizing what was done in the past, but about creating new ways of doing things for the future. It’s about looking at your business plan and seeing if it’s fit for the digital age.
Do you benefit from all the data you collect? Is it informative how you handle and grow your customer base? Does it suggest the creation of new products or services? Do you work on multiple platforms and systems that don’t talk to each other and slow you down? Single-platform companies like Amazon, Netflix and Airbnb have transformed industries by using data and analytics and predictive modeling to deliver a personalized, seamless customer experience. What is your customer and employee experience, and how can you improve it, make it easier, faster, more fun?
2. Driving strategic change needs a leader, not a manager.
Some people will say that management is leadership and leadership is management. Two decades ago I would have agreed. Like others in management, I was engaged in practicing the daily rituals of planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, measuring, problem solving and producing reliable results for stakeholders. These are all important features. So much so that the idea of taking time away from these critical surgeries can be unnerving.
But merely performing leadership functions is not leadership. Managers manage the present; leaders focus on the future. Today, leaders must not only turn on the lights and run the engine, but also create the businesses of tomorrow. Digital technologies enable and accelerate that change. Digital skills are now essential for successful leadership. This does not mean that leaders have to be tech savvy. It just means they need to understand the impact of digital on everything from the shop floor to the boardroom, and do something about it.
Those who are willing to jump in and take advantage will reap the rewards. Those who hesitate will find that their existing business becomes obsolete.
3. “Yesterday I was smart, so I wanted to change the world. Today I’m wise, so I change myself.”Rumic
Abandoning old-fashioned thinking is critical. To make sure you get the most out of your digital investment, it’s imperative to brush up on your skills, both personally and professionally. Then build the right team around you to help create and anchor the change. This means stimulating creativity, involving both the left and right sides of the brain. We need creativity to solve customer problems that have not been solved before. Consider, for example, the challenges of rolling out Covid-19 vaccinations nationwide.
Diversity of thinking is further enhanced by a diversity of people. If you hire people like you, you can only solve problems that are already known to people like you. For me, innovation is a by-product of a diversity of thinking.
No one is born with all the skills needed to thrive. Even if they did, those skills would quickly become obsolete because the world is changing so quickly. We need to change as the world changes, and that’s where the courage comes in. Be brave enough to step outside what you know. To adjust. Find others to join your crusade – a good mix. It’s not enough to focus on the here and how. Even in busy times, find the time and space to think about how to future-proof your business. Business transformation enabled by digital technologies can help.