This article was co-written by Aoife Kilduff, European Insights Lead at YSC, and Nikita D’Souza, Research Consultant at YSC.
The ‘digital age’ is not a new era. It is the world we have been living in for the past 20 years.
However in recent years, the effect the ‘digital age’ has on the way we live and work has drastically increased. Great leaps in technology and the widespread adoption of digital technologies have meant the incremental changes of the past have given way to continual transformation and disruption.
Organisations steeped in digital thinking (e.g. Netflix, Amazon, Uber, Air BnB) are shaping the way we view effective organisational culture and practice.
Now, virtually all organisations have been affected by the ‘digital age’ and are struggling to keep up with the pace of change. Businesses have started to take note and realise that while ‘being digital’ today is a competitive advantage, it is becoming essential.
More advanced organisations are dropping the term ‘digital’ altogether as it just describes the way they are currently operating.
Leadership in the digital age
We conducted interviews with 20 leaders in digital roles across a wide range of industries to understand what helps organisations and leaders thrive in the ‘digital age’.
There were three areas in particular which came up again and again:
- Attracting and developing digital talent
- Shifting the mindset of the organisation to create a ‘digitally-ready’ culture.
- Creating an agile operating structure
Most organisations often don’t get much further than the first point. They focus on hiring and developing digital leaders who have the technical skills to create ‘digital’ solutions. However just hiring digital leaders alone is not enough to thrive in the digital age.
Take the example of James who has recently joined ABC Corporation as VP Digital. His role has been created with the remit of helping the large, global publishing organisation move into the digital age.
Despite his title, he is three months into the role and feeling that his remit is lip service to an industry expectation for the company to be moving forward, but every initiative that James raises is met with scepticism and a “that won’t work for us” mentality.
Just hiring digital leaders alone is not enough to thrive in the digital age.
Other departments are throwing their digital needs over the figurative fence in the hope that the digital department (aka James) will fix the issue, build a suitable app, or confirm that digital is not an area in which they should be trying to operate.
James is feeling frustrated. He joined this company with a vision for change and the motivation to bring innovation, passion and curiosity to his role, believing that he had the support of the executive and the engagement of the business to bring about agreed and necessary change. However he is struggling to make any headway.
Many of our interviewees were in a similar situation to James.
They have the technical skills and motivation to help digitally transform their organisations but the culture or formal structure in the organisation is blocking changes. They often felt that their organisations didn’t fully understand what becoming ‘digital’ looks like.
It is not just about creating an app, using iPads in work or having a strong social media presence. It is about a complete mindset shift and this requires more agile informal and formal working practices.
Shifts needed to create a ‘digitally-ready’ culture
|Results focused||Purpose focused|
|Afraid to fail||Celebrate testing and learning|
|Inward focused||Outward focused|
|Employees imposed on||Employees empowered|
Shifts needed to create an agile structure
|Static teams||Dynamic teams|
|Standardised operating processes and bureaucracy||Flexible and innovative deployment and decision-making|
|MI driven by what can be measured||MI driven by its ability to improve decisions|
|Constrained by physical space||Remote working practices, flexibility of location|
|One size fits all employee development||Individualised employee development|
Broadening how we think of digital talent
In order to make these shifts, organisations need to find people who are prepared and able to shape culture and structure as well as the digital task.
While organisations have been focusing on looking for Digital Experts, they have been neglecting to find Change Agents who can drive more agile working practices in the business.