18-20 November, 2019
Sheraton Stockholm Hotel, Stockholm, Sweden

Why Digital Transformation is The Biggest Change Leadership Challenge ft. Volkswagen AG

In the early 20th Century, Henry Ford struggled to make use of the conveyor belt in automotive production. Today, almost every business and industry is trying to utilise the endless opportunities of ever faster-developing technology. In many ways, the engineers, scientists and professionals in companies all over the world are following in Ford´s footsteps: Improving Society with the help of technology. 

The challenge today is similar to that of 100 years ago - and yet more complex, as the speed of innovation and the availability of information increases by the second. Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing, and new Work – the generation that is coming into the workforce is growing up in a totally different environment than that of 10 or 20 years ago.

Technology + Mindset = Digital Transformation

Organisations that are tackling digital transformation aren’t just facing a technical challenge, but also that of developing the necessary mindset to work in this new age. The existing workforce needs to be taken along on the journey, educated and qualified in order to continue creating value for the company based on their experience combined with new skills and knowledge. It is essential to honour the results and contributions that existing employees have brought into the business; they made it what it is today! It would be completely wrong to speak of the “old World” and the “new World“. That terminology only promotes a tribal effect and divides people into competing silos. After all, the moment you start your digital transformation, the business – the version that existed until now –is paying for it. So, focus on creating unity and on getting everybody inside the company to join forces and work on solutions. That’s how the business will continue to succeed.

What’s the Digital Purpose?

The first thing to do when starting the transformation is to provide a clear vision of the digital purpose of the company and a roadmap to get there. Next is to arrange quick and easy successes – for example, by changing an analogue process into a digital version that is accessible for everybody people can see something is happening that they can relate to. 

Key to success is communication. Listen to people first; then create a tool to explain the history of the business to the digital natives, and let the experienced workforce recognise the challenges and possibilities of the digital era. If you have to change the roadmap along the way, no problem. The first version of the roadmap helps to get people moving – and if your reasoning is valid and you can explain it, they will have no problem in changing direction. 

You may also find people asking you why they should move in one direction when other options are possible. Here is where constant dialogue will get you to your destination. Remember the first GPS Navigation Systems? If you would have followed those directions blindly you might have run into trouble. So, reviewing your roadmap frequently is a good idea – as is listening to people.

After providing a mutual starting point for discussion, you can develop ideas around how to transform your business and create a digital version of what´s made it so successful in the past, and a disruptive version that will make it successful in years to come. 

With the common language and vocabulary you have now developed, you’ll be able to answer questions like:

What Data do we have? 

How can we get access to it and/or make it accessible to the people that can make use of it?

What technology will help us? 

Who are the right partners to help us? 

If we are moving forward into the digital business, how can we integrate our customers and suppliers into that Vision of the Future?

What do they need to continue doing business with us?

Managing the Complexity

There are many ways to manage the complexity around Digital Transformation. Of course, a strategy is mandatory, as is programme management to orchestrate, steer and track initiatives and act as an information hub. You need this kind of a neural network to relay information to the right people, speed up the process and tear down the boundaries of departmental thinking. Together, the organisation and the programme management act like an orchestra. Without programme management as a conductor, the orchestra provides only sound; together, they produce a symphony, which pleases all parties involved: the customers, partners, suppliers, stakeholder and the company.

What Brought Us Here, Won’t Take Us There

Digital Transformation presents the biggest leadership challenge we have at the moment, as what brought us here, won’t take us there. The mechanics and habits of the past will not help you to survive in the digital landscape. Leadership is needed at every level of an organisation, from individuals to teams and from the first day apprentice to board member and CEO. 

It´s not a top down process anymore, but a combined effort. Those with authority need to create space for their employees to grow and be innovative. It´s not about managing the business, it’s about empowerment and getting the right people together when facing a problem or starting a new project. Leadership needs to be in place when facing adaptive problems – when we are uncertain and there are many different opinions, when we are not sure what the problem really is, and we don’t have the necessary and technical skills or resources to deal with the problem.

Leadership, therefore, equals constant learning – both at the individual and the organisational level. This itself – in today’s world – is a big challenge, as the opportunities to obtain information are unprecedented. On the other hand, it has never been easier to gain education, and to provide guidance for your followers and peers.

Vision, roadmap, quick wins, get everybody aboard, orchestrate the transformation, find new ways and partners, be adaptive and keep learning. Got it? Ok, then you’re ready to get the digital transformation started. Just remember: the solution you might think of right now may not be the answer to the problem you started with. 

Digital transformation can be achieved through combined effort. So, Leaders, please remember that you are not alone. Communicate a lot, don’t be afraid to ask, look for help, and listen. The person who holds key information is ready to be engaged. The best thing about digital tools today is that distances don’t matter that much anymore – and together, the change leadership challenge can be fulfilled.

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