Article: Why leaders must adapt for the digital era

Leadership Development

Why leaders must adapt for the digital era

Navigating the digital era demands leaders to cultivate a distinct mindset for effective leadership.
Why leaders must adapt for the digital era

At a time when technology and digitisation are disrupting almost everything we knew, leaders must adopt a different mindset to be effective. It's essential to recognise that the human resources function will have to play a key role in driving this transformation.

Leaders need to be nimble-footed to navigate the new landscape with agility and adaptability. They must embrace change, stay updated on emerging technologies, and encourage a culture of continuous learning and innovation within their organisations.

Visionary leaders inherently possess the ability to look around the corners or reach out to those who can help them assess the potential of what lies ahead. Leaders must possess a clear vision of how technology can drive business growth and transformation. They should anticipate trends, envision new possibilities, and articulate a compelling digital strategy that aligns with the organisation's goals.

As the best-selling author and recipient of the Theory-to-Practice award, Rita McGrath says that in the disruptive era, leaders must be willing to take calculated risks and encourage experimentation. In her path-breaking book, The End of Competitive Advantage, she elaborates on how failing fast and cheap is better than the stale old ways of NPV-based project rollout. Leaders should create an environment where employees can test new ideas, fail fast, and learn from setbacks. 

Without using technology enterprises will find it tough to enhance the customer experience. Leaders must prioritise understanding customer needs, leveraging data and insights, and aligning tech initiatives to deliver personalized, seamless, and value-added experiences.

Leaders like Bezos (Amazon), Benioff (Salesforce), Nadella (Microsoft), and Musk (Tesla) are known respectively for their growth mindset, customer-centricity, collaboration, and continual learning. Many companies, like TCS, have invested heavily in up-skilling their workforce through internal learning platforms. This has enabled TCS employees to acquire digital skills and adapt to evolving technological trends. Emirates Airlines, for example, has embraced technology to enhance the customer experience. They were one of the first to introduce digital innovations such as self-service kiosks, mobile apps for seamless travel, and personalized in-flight entertainment systems, showcasing their commitment to leveraging technology for customer-centric transformation.

For leaders to surf the constantly changing digital waves, a few fundamental changes are desirable. Start with encouraging and facilitating digital fluency across the enterprise. This involves providing training, resources, and support to enhance employees' tech and digital skills, ensuring they can effectively leverage the same to drive business outcomes.

Next, build cross-functional collaboration by breaking down silos and promoting teamwork. A Fortune 500 European pharma giant created a global business services unit to drive digitization across the enterprise. By facilitating collaboration between teams, functions, and departments, leaders can harness diverse expertise and drive innovation through the integration of technology into various business processes. 

Leaders must also nurture a culture of agility and continuous learning. This involves empowering employees to embrace change, supporting their professional development, and recognising and rewarding innovative ideas and initiatives. Successful leaders in the digital era are change agents. They proactively communicate the benefits of technological transformation, address employee concerns, and provide a roadmap for the transition. By actively managing change, leaders can minimise resistance and maximise employee buy-in.

HR can play a key role in this digital transformation by recruiting the right talent. They should collaborate with leaders to identify strategic job families, create competency frameworks, and implement up-skilling and reskilling plans. Strive to create an inclusive and agile culture that embraces technological disruption. HR can drive change management initiatives, push for a learning mindset, and facilitate open communication throughout the transformation process.

Leverage technology to streamline HR processes, enhance employee experience, and leverage data analytics for informed decision-making. Implement digital onboarding, adopt employee engagement platforms, and utilize people analytics to drive data-driven insights.

Here are some specific things that HR can do to enable this transformation:

Provide leadership training: HR can provide leaders with training on topics such as growth mindset, strategic thinking, customer-centricity, collaboration, and seeing around corners. Such training will help leaders develop the skills and mindset they need to be successful in this disruptive era.

Create a culture of innovation: HR can help create a culture of innovation by encouraging employees to take risks and experiment with new ideas. HR can also provide resources and support to help employees develop their innovative skills.

Promote collaboration: HR can do this by creating opportunities for employees to work together on projects. Provide training on collaboration skills to help employees work more effectively together. Gamification and new ideas like the “two pizza teams” at Amazon can help.

Measure performance: Measure the performance of leaders to track their progress in developing the right mindset and management style. This feedback can be used to help leaders identify areas where they need to improve.

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Topics: Leadership Development, #DigitalTransformation

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