Years ago, I was waiting in the queue at the airport lounge reception to get my card swiped for entry. The gentleman in front of me forgot his PIN and had to call up his bank. They promised him a quick dispatch of the replacement PIN within seven working days via post (not very quick these days). The exasperated customer wondered why they could not send to him in a digital form via phone or email – after all, he just needed information, not a physical product. It is precisely moments like these that set the context for leading in the digital world of today.

digital_executive_leadership_strategyBased on my own experience of having led digital transformation over the years, here are a few pointers for keeping your organization on top of digital change:

  1. Understand customer (and employee) needs: The first step towards leadership in the digital world of today is understanding the needs of the people we are leading. For example, many millennials I have interviewed unabashedly state their preferences upfront rather than wait respectfully to find the right opportunity to make their case.
  2. Get friendly with the language of today (apps): If one does not lead by example (booking movies and cabs via apps, taking virtual notes rather than using pen & paper), pray, how can one lead an entire business unit towards digital nirvana?
  3. Move seamlessly into the future without disturbing the present: Create sub-units which are completely digital, so that the proof of concept is established while the traditional core evolves over time.
  4. Write the future: Identify white spaces and spell out your vision for the future. The picture on the canvas is “How will this place look in five years?” For example, convergence with wearables is the way forward for the healthcare industry.
  5. Frame change positively: People are most excited by dreams. Talk to people about how the digital world can help them rather than hinder them. For instance, automation is not a threat to jobs – rather, a way of focusing on high-value activities while low-end work gets automated.
  6. Clarity: Leaders are dealing with a more demanding workforce and a more complex set of demands at work in the digital world of today. And the need for clarity in such a setting can hardly be over-emphasized. While communicating the positive aspects of change, leaders also need to deal with real issues and challenges. Left to themselves, these can derail the entire journey.
  7. Communicate, communicate, and communicate: Highly under-rated, this one element can determine the pace of change. As people are increasingly in the know, they develop a sense of familiarity with digital change…and familiarly is one of the biggest catalysts in such circumstances.
  8. Bring about a culture of customer first: I have changed organization structure formats to show the entire organization reporting to the customer. We need to be in step with every change in expectation from the customer as part of a strong digital strategy.

The gentleman I mentioned at the beginning of this article was dissatisfied, so he called up the bank and gave strong feedback. Fortunately, for once, the recipient (who happened to be a senior person who was fulfilling his quota of call listening for the day) was someone who recognized the power of the insight from the customer. He swung into action, and, in consultation with the board, embarked on a journey of end-to-end digital transformation of the enterprise. The rest, as they say, is history. The firm launched digital products and services, beat competitors to the top spot, and created history while consigning the ones (who were laggards in the digital world) to the history bin.


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