Agile Leaders for the Digital Era Urgently Required
17 May 2019
Posted by: Dr Jim Hamill
The changes brought about by the Internet over the last twenty years are nothing compared to what is coming over the next few years. A convergence of disruptive technologies, combined with the rapid emergence of a new generation of constantly connected, empowered customers and employees (named Generation C), is threatening to reshape markets faster than at any time in history.
With no industry, no organisation, and being immune from the threat of disruption, digitally supported transformation has become the number one business challenge facing organisations today. Nothing else comes close.
With the growing acceptance of the need for our organisations to #adaptordie, do we have the digital leaders to drive change? Do our organisations have the leadership capabilities to succeed in a digital era? How critical is agile to successful transformation?
Recent research evidence points to an emerging crisis of digital leadership. A 2018 study by Capgemini concluded that over 65 per cent of the 750 organisations surveyed lacked the leadership capabilities to drive transformational change. Worryingly, this represented a sharp decline in firms’ general readiness for digital transformation compared to a similar study carried out six years ago, highlighting a growing gap between organisational preparedness for transformation and the rapid pace of technological change taking place.
A similar survey of 2,000 senior executives by Deloitte concluded that many are struggling to develop effective strategies in today's rapidly changing markets. Faced with an ever-increasing array of new technologies, leaders acknowledged they have too many options from which to choose and, in many cases, lack the strategic vision to help guide their efforts. Organisations are struggling to keep up with developments such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things, automation and the rising expectations of customers and employees.
Our own research suggests that almost two-thirds of organisations worldwide (62%) are facing a digital leadership crisis ‘at least to some extent’.
It is now widely accepted that successful digital transformation is first and foremost about changing people, organisation and culture. Technology is just the facilitator of change.
Consequently, a new breed of senior executives is required: leaders of change for the digital era - leaders combining high-level business knowledge, experience and understanding with the ability to develop and implement digital supported transformation strategies fully aligned with and supportive of agreed business outcomes. Leaders who possess both the confidence and personal skills to overcome organisational barriers to transformational change, especially people, hierarchy and cultural barriers.
Successful leaders of change for the digital era require a broad range of hybrid skills and experience (see word cloud below). ‘Knowing about IT stuff’ is no longer enough.
It is estimated that organisations worldwide will spend in excess of $2 trillion on digital transformation initiatives by 2021. Without leaders of change for the digital era, most of these initiatives will fail.
It’s never been more important for senior executives and managers, from both the private and public sectors, to equip themselves with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate in an era of turbulent digital change.
The Role of Agile
Agile, narrowly and broadly defined, sits right at the centre of an organisation’s transformation journey. It is both an input and an output.
As a set of management principles applied to software development projects, the adoption of an agile approach is critical to ensuring that digital transformation projects are delivered on time, within budget. That the transformation journey stays on track.
Agile is also an output of the digital transformation process with the ultimate objective being to leverage the full potential of emerging technologies for building a flexible, fast-moving, responsive, efficient and collaborative organisation that is fit-for-purpose in a digital era.
Critically, this requires leaders of change for the digital era to adopt an agile mindset.
Digitally supported transformation is about reimagining the way we do things/the way we work, breaking free from the limits imposed by outdated technology. The only way for organisations to survive in an era of turbulent change and digital disruption is to become agile. Traditional hierarchical command and control management structures do not work in a digital era.
The biggest single challenge facing digital transformation leaders is not technology; it is overcoming the industrial era mindset of most senior executives and colleagues. The key task is to embed a new agile organisational psychology, architecture and culture, fully supported by emerging technologies.
Agile digital transformation is about using technology to obliterate hierarchy and resistance to change.
About the author:
Dr Jim Hamill is the Director at Future Digital Leaders. He has over thirty-five years experience in International Management Education, and help organisations transform digitally by building Future Digital Leaders.