What does it mean to be a Digital Leader? How do I get started?
First, what is a Digital Leader and why should you care? Simply put, it is a sophisticated way to label an individual or organization that is innovative and forward thinking in how technology can drive business results in a rapidly changing environment. It is how an organization can leverage technology assets and capabilities to achieve business goals. (For more, check out our video “What is a Digital Leader?”) Why should you care? The technology disruption that’s been occurring over the last several decades is not slowing down, and the companies that have positioned themselves as digital leaders are reaping the rewards. It’s no surprise McKinsey & Co. and others were easily able to quantify this terms of real numbers (growth), and real outcomes (profit). Digital leaders outperform their counterparts by leaps and bounds according to these studies. That is a tremendous advantage for the companies willing to take the plunge and become a digital leader. If you want your company to thrive, technology better be a big part of your strategy to achieve your vision. If it were easy, everyone would do it.. right? Well, it can be done, and it is not as complicated as you may think. Once you eliminate the confusion surrounding what a digital leader is, how it can impact your business, you can start the organization down the right path to success.
1. Make yourself accountable
Becoming a digital leader starts at the top of the organization. The owners and leadership team must believe in becoming a digital leader and need to be held accountable for the required corporate transformation. If the executive level doesn’t believe it is worthwhile, or necessary no one else in the company will. The data on the enormous benefit exists. It’s time to educate the leaders and take the leap.
2. Share the message
Once you are convinced you need to be a digital leader, you need to include the topic in your internal conversations. Openly discuss it at company meetings, strategic meetings, and operational meetings. Make it very clear this is a new company-wide initiative that is very important for the organization. Set the expectation that this means accepting change, but stress the changes will be made together, and for the betterment of the company and the employees both. Open the floor to discussions, and concerns, and help to build excitement. Every person will play a role, and every person needs to buy-in to the process.
3. Build the team
You likely don’t have the technology team today that you need for this journey, so you need to start with a plan for capabilities that are required from the team. What resources will connect technology capability to business goals? How will you deliver more effectively on operational technology services the business requires today? How will you budget the operational cost required and still have budget for higher business value initiatives? Will you outsource the team or build the team internally? This is a big step, and there is a lot to consider, so you probably will need some help exploring and defining this plan from the outside. Could be a consultant, or if you plan to have a technology leader, your first hire could be a new team member to lead this effort, even if the plan is to primarily outsource technology services for the organization.
4. Embrace change management
A critical component of becoming a digital leader is proper change management. Technology changes rapidly. Everyday new software and hardware are released that help businesses advance more efficiently and effectively. The better you become at rolling out new tools, the more iterative steps forward you can take. This concept is the core of a solid digital strategy. Iterative improvement over time yields amazing results. The key is to get the iterations started, and that is all about change management so that you can take many small steps forward very quickly.
5. Find your champions, the ones to help you by teaching and training others
Every company has early adopters. The employees that are a little more eager to try something new, or the ones that are driving change already. Identify the ones in your company, in each department, that can be your champions of change. These employees will be your best assets when getting adoption of new tools. Their role should be to help educate others, to share their victories and losses, and to gather feedback and make recommendations to help make the change easier and more successful.
6. Find your change resistors
Although you’ll have employees that help the process, you’ll also have some laggards that can cripple the efforts. You’ll need to understand who they are just as importantly as the former group. You may even find some actively disengaged employees, in which case it should be addressed separately. Just keep in mind, change resistance does not necessarily mean they are disengaged. It’s your job to figure that out. Once you find the change resistors, they’ll need extra training, extra assistance, and extra motivation. Make sure you hold the resistors as accountable as everyone else, otherwise it’ll create delays in roll-outs and new initiatives.
7. Understand your employees value equation
Changing for the sake of change is a waste of everyone’s time. You need to understand each employee has a value equation for their role in the company. What is their function, how are they rewarded, what do they contribute to the company, and what do they get recognition for? All these items contribute to their sense of value and purpose. With change comes the potential to disrupt that equation. Make sure you understand the potential impact and help them understand the value they provide during and after the changes.
8. Start small, pick some easy wins with high value returns
If you are not familiar with the J-shaped change curve, you should check it out here. The concept is with every change there is an experience journey we each go through. In the beginning it is negative, resulting in some anger and fear (change is hard). As you push through the change you move to acceptance and commitment. But only when we push through this fear to we see the positive side of the curve. To get employees used to this emotional rollercoaster it helps to start with smaller projects, so they can experience the curve in a shorter timeline. Once people understand the ups and downs of change, and they see positive outcomes, they are more comfortable tackling larger initiatives. Additionally, another technique is to purposefully create small victories along the way to keep teams positive and focused!
9. Invest in training
I can’t stress this one enough. One of the biggest barriers to implementing anything new is improper training, or a lack of it altogether. Increase your success rate by training thoroughly, in small batches, over a longer period. Having a one-week bootcamp does little to promote actual knowledge, only temporary test results. People just can’t remember everything thrown at them in firehose fashion. They need time to understand, and digest, and internalize the information. Give them time and repetition, and let them practice their new skills in demo environments with real-life scenarios. The reward is well worth it.
10. Recognize, reward, and give feedback often
This is necessary for a million additional reasons completely out of the scope of this post. But for our purposes, rewarding and recognizing a job well done is mandatory. It reinforces everyone’s sense of value, maintains a positive atmosphere, holds people accountable, gives people the feedback they need to determine direction, and gives everyone confidence in what they are doing. Being a digital leader means being a leader, and leaders support and encourage their team members, and build a culture that recognizes “we are all in this together”.
11. Display results proudly
Finally, don’t be afraid to share results. A lot of hard work goes into being a digital leader, but the results are well worth sharing. Let everyone celebrate the victories together. All of the initiatives you embark on will have some strategic goal associated with them. Whether you are trying to minimize waste, eliminate duplicate processes, enhance productivity, enhance employee experience, lower operational costs, increase profit per employee, lower overall technology spend as a percentage of gross revenue, or a million other business reasons, the fact is you are all in this together and should all enjoy the challenges and the victories.
Becoming a digital leader doesn’t have to be mysterious, but it is critical for success. If your company has defined the vision/values/mission and recognizes technology will be critical to your success, you already understand the role technology can play to help advance the business. Taking the necessary steps to get the right buy-in for successful change to be a digital leader can now be on the forefront. With the proper foundation in place any company can be the digital leader of tomorrow. Just stay focused, stay positive, and get started today. Technology change is not slowing down to wait for you.