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New Territory: Do We Know What We Want?

Energizing Digital Transformation (1/5)

by Brigitte Lammers, Mark D. Krymalowski | September 16, 2016

Digital transformation is stretching businesses to the limit. One of the main challenges is making the transition from rigid, hierarchical structures to the flexible, innovative forms that are needed today.

So what kind of leadership team is most likely to tackle this challenge successfully? An obvious question – and one that’s often discussed far too early in the process.

First up, businesses need to clearly define their digital goals. Only then can they execute the necessary changes sustainably and effectively. This way, digitization forms a vital and integral component of a holistic business strategy.

But that’s easier said than done: Many leaders and leadership teams who are very positive about making the change find it difficult to mesh traditional requirements and new, digital essentials and formulate clear goals. More probing discussions may be needed here, to uncover the deeper reservations obstructing a rigorous digital rethink and preventing established models and practices being challenged. There’s nothing surprising about such reservations: People can often feel threatened by digital transformation. No one wants to make their own area of responsibility redundant – which feels uncomfortably like making themselves redundant, too.

The new digital goals cannot be compared with the strategic projects of previous decades: The environment is constantly changing; old industry mechanisms and economic conditions no longer apply. Today, the only things we can be certain of are uncertainty and short-term change. Holding fast to goals that were set in the past is no recipe for success. Flexibility, combined with clear positioning, is the order of the day.

What’s needed is a new and completely different kind of agility, a willingness to take risks and – hand in hand with this – a tolerance for getting things wrong. Trying, again and again, maybe failing, learning from experience, redirecting or refining, starting over – this is how organizations conquer new digital territory and a future characterized by volatility. And it can only work if everyone involved actively takes on board a new spirit of tolerance and innovation.

This calls for leaders who live this cultural change credibly, embedding digital goals in the organization’s collective consciousness – despite all the problems, the justified doubts, the failures and setbacks that are an inevitable part of the process. The leaders needed here are authentic individuals who can motivate their people long term.

Impulses for the digital transformation: