Leading Blog






04.24.19

Is Your Organization Digitally Mature?

Is Your Organization Digitally Mature

WE’RE not in Kansas anymore. Unlike Dorothy in the movie version of the Wizard of Oz, there’s no going back.

Many companies experience digital disruption in the same way as the tornado in the Wizard of Oz—swept up by forces beyond their control. But the story is not about the tornado, but how they made their way through the strange new world they found themselves in. In the same way, digital disruption is not about the technology as much as it is about how companies can make their way through the new competitive environment they find themselves in.

Digital disruption is more about the people than it is the technology. People are the focus of The Technology Fallacy by Gerald Kane, Anh Phillips, Jonathan Copulsky, and Garth Andrus. “It’s about how to manage disruption, adapt to disruption, and thrive in a world and a time marked by disruption.”

The main problem facing organizations is not the pace of change itself but the “uneven rates of assimilating these technologies into different levels of human organization.”
Technology changes faster than individuals can adopt it (the adoption gap); individuals adapt more quickly to that change than organizations can (the adaptation gap), and organizations adjust more quickly than legal and societal institutions can (the assimilation gap). Each of these gaps poses a different challenge for companies.

Only by fundamentally changing the way the organization works—through flattening hierarchies, speeding up decision making, helping employees develop needed skills, and successfully understanding both opportunities and threats in the environment—can an organization truly adapt to a digital world.

Digital Maturity

The authors introduce the concept of digital maturity. “Digital Maturity is about continually realigning your organization and updating your strategic plan to account for changes in the technological landscape that affect your business.”

Digital maturity should be the goal that most companies should aspire to in order to compete in a digital world. They note that the idea of tightly aligning an organization's people, tasks, structure, and culture is not new; it plays out differently because the conditions under which those management principles operate has changed.

Digital maturity is a gradual, ongoing process. In a digitally mature company, the digital strategy is a core part of the organization’s overall business strategy. Business should experiment with new technologies, but more importantly, they need to be able to “clearly articulate why they need to invest in these technologies or what business purpose they could serve.” Digital leaders need to focus on business value.
Digital strategy isn’t just thinking of new initiatives that enable organizations to do business in the same way but slightly more efficiently. Instead, it involves fundamentally rethinking how you do business in light of all the digital trends occurring both inside and outside your organization. It involves identifying potential new services, sources of revenue, and ways of interacting with employees.

What About Leadership?

Does the essence of leadership really change in the digital age? Or are greater and greater levels of uncertainty causing us to forget the essentials and focus on the latest bright and shiny object?

The fundamental principles of leaders never change. We tend to forget that in the face of rapid change. New environments demand a different emphasis. The authors rightly note, “Digital leadership is just leadership, albeit in a somewhat new environment.”

But what is different? “Leaders cannot readily assume that any information can be kept private and must be prepared to deal with all situations publicly.”

They shared this from the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ):
The second skill needed to be a great leader in today’s context is to be inherently curious. Today’s leaders need to lead through influence rather than through command and control. That’s quite hard for people who have really only had one quiver [sic] in their leadership bow, which is command and control.

What they meant was arrow but point well taken. I liked the metaphor. The point they make regard command and control has always been so, but in the industrial age you could get away with it, so it has become the baggage we have to deal with.

What Skills Do Digital Leaders Need?

From their research, the most important skill is transformative vision and a forward-looking perspective. This includes not just knowledge of markets and trends, but how they are evolving and how the business should respond. It would be the ability to know what is foundational to the business and what changes are relevant and might impact that base.

Next is digital literacy. That is, understanding the general principles of how a technology works and thus the possibilities that come from so that one can determine if a particular technology is or is not relevant for certain business applications. It is difficult to provide purpose and direction if you have no idea how or why a technology will impact your business.

A leader must be change-oriented or open-minded. Willing to adapt and comfortable with a changing environment. Beyond this, a leader must demonstrate the ability to deliver and decisively lead the organization into the future.
One other key difference to leadership in a digital age: where leadership is found within the organization. In the twentieth century hierarchical corporation, people looked only to the top of the org chart for leadership. With the pace of change, that is no longer practical—nor is it always where you can find effective leadership. When we talk about leadership, we are referring to leadership at all levels of the organization.

One characteristic of digitally immature companies is that leadership is trapped at the upper levels of the organization.

Digital Talent

Attracting and keeping digital talent is a challenge for many organizations. With the pace of change and innovation, not only must individuals have a growth mindset, but organizations must also create a culture of growth and continuous learning.

The focus for all needs to be on lifelong learning. Even for the digital natives, time marches on. While older generations have much to learn from the millennials, the fact that they are early adopters doesn’t mean they necessarily know how to adapt that technology in an organizational setting. “Millennials are not inherently digital, at least not in an organizational sense. They may have adopted technology individually, but they will not instinctively know how to help your company adapt. Even if they come out of college more digitally minded than their older counterparts, that edge will atrophy without continuous learning and a growth mindset.” Continuous learning is your best defense in a changing environment.

The authors go on to discuss the conditions for successfully adapting to digital disruption that most organizations will need to create. They address such topics as organizing, cross-functional teams, enabling stronger collaboration, cultivating a more experimental mindset, and an approach for measuring digital maturity in your organization.

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