The word ‘digital’ is quickly gaining the attention of C-level executives from the boardroom to the data center.
For the CIO and IT to have credibility and worth within the organization and to the board, they need to prove agility and speed. This will bring their companies to become digital companies.
Let’s take a look at where the speed to digital is coming from. The Dotcom era shifted the perception of digital. The marketing function realized that the web was a key channel to influencing customers. And with the arrival of the ‘app’, the concept of digital became synonymous with digital marketing.
Some companies have gone as far as appointing a Chief Digital Officer (CDO). This implies that digital is a separate business function. Perhaps one that is less technology management and more customer experience.
Such organizations will likely have a business strategy, a digital strategy and an IT strategy. But to separate these three areas is to misunderstand the role of IT and the impact of digital on a major scale.
I hope I have piqued your interest. I’d like to welcome you to my Digital Leadership Column. My focus for this series of columns is to provide leaders with insights on how the world is changing and how they need to adjust to this new fast-paced reality that is digital disruption.
In this opening column, I will clarify what we mean by digital. And it will become clearer as to why this is a boardroom issue, and not one to be delegated solely to your marketing and/or IT function.
What Was Digital?
I started my career as a technologist around thirty years ago. Back then, digital was synonymous with IT. Digital technologies were an evolutionary step from analogue technologies. Digital technologies could not only do what analogue could do, but could do it in a manner that leant itself to logical manipulation. Thus software emerged as the stuff that could be used to make the hardware do incredible things.
Taking this original definition, it would seem natural to place digital matters in the hands of the CIO.
What is Digital Today?
Firstly, the digital economy is not simply the industrial era on ‘technology steroids’.
Let’s get a little anthropological. Around half a million years ago, modern man showed up. About twelve thousand years ago, we were chasing our lunch across the savannah, wearing animal pelts.
This was all ticking along nicely, until the arrival of the industrial era. Because our brains are wired to:
- Be mobile
- Be social
- Be judged on our outcomes
- Make decisions
- Be creative
- Have an integrated work and life existence
And the industrial era had implications against our true nature. We ceased to be mobile. We were told to show up to work at the factory. We were being paid for our time rather than our outputs. We were discouraged from being social. We were parts in the machine. Creativity and decision making were frowned upon. Naturally we hated such work and so began the concept of work-life balance.
For me the digital era is man’s return to his true nature. The industrial model, for all its benefits, destroyed our humanity.
As we have seen in recent years, mobility and social have returned to work. Creativity is cherished. Delegating and transferring decision making to a lower level is widely acceptable. Being judged on outcomes, people are starting to enjoy work. This all means the boundary that separates work and life has blurred. It’s all being fuelled by today’s technologies.
In a nutshell, the digital economy is not the industrial era on technology steroids. Instead it’s mankind on technology steroids. We are entering the era of the augmented man.
And in this era, we need leaders who adjust their leadership style to reflect this new empowered worker, customer, partner and citizen.
Thinking that leadership today is just leadership as it always was, with just a bit more technology investment, is a country mile off the money.
Carrots and sticks are no longer applicable in the digital age.
Leaders who have an agile mindset will replace leaders who rule by status and fear. Leaders need to be rewired. They need to be leaders, not just managers. They won’t be set in their ways, but instead able to accept change and move quickly. These leaders will bring success with digital disruption.
This is not a step towards anarchy, but a step towards a more agile and attentive enterprise. Strategy and tactics blur, as decisions are made based on reality today, rather than on a two-year old strategy plan.
You are strongly encouraged to consider the implications of a world where the customer and the employee are king. In such a world, strategic direction is not baked in the boardroom. In such a world, your value proposition needs to improve by an order of magnitude, at least. Otherwise you are toast.
You think today is tough compared to life a few years ago. The rate of change is exponential. What we have witnessed to date is merely the warm up act in terms of what we are about to face.
I write this with the intention of issuing a rallying cry. Make the necessary adjustments to your leadership style. Your organization will enjoy a transformation that takes you from fighting nature to having it as your business partner.
In my view, that’s digital leadership.