5 leadership rules for the digital transformation

Everyone wants digital transformation. Really all of them? When we take a good look, we often see that need for quick digital trans-formation has not yet arrived at decision-making levels, quite the contrary.

Digitale Transformation: Erstellen einer Social-Collaboration-Plattform, Leadership-Regeln und einem agilen Management-of-Change Prozess.

One of the key tasks and preparations for the digital transformation is Digital Capability Building, i.e. the creation, establishment and expansion of digital competences within the company. Besides technological and methodological skills, this especially involves management competences. Yet what kind of management is needed for this?

Security was yesterday

Let's first have a look at the current environment. Up until just recently, most (large) enterprises were in a situation that was characterized by a relatively high degree of security. Long-term planning horizons, clear specifications and a more top-down-oriented management style had been the rule and for this situation usually also quite adequate. However, based on the fast digital transformation need, this picture is now changing fundamentally.

Framework conditions are now changing so quickly that companies simply no longer have the time to invest in extensive research work and long committee discussions. Here, it pays off to bring knowledge, resources, passion and responsibility together in order to achieve results more quickly. Interim conclusion: In an uncertain situation, in which orientation, new opportunities and customer reactions can no longer be anticipated as had previously been the case, agile management is required. And this means: an entirely different conception of management.

Less management, more leadership

For this management conception, it is essential to differentiate between management and leadership. But what does this mean in concrete terms?

Management activities are predominantly characterized by:

  • the formulation of tasks and processes
  • tracking and control of target-actual comparisons
  • optimization of efficiency and quality
  • continuous improvement
  • In summary: Clarification of the "how" and "when"

Leadership, on the other hand, encompasses:

  • a focus on purposeful and superordinate targets
  • conveyance of a guiding vision for the future
  • intense personal communication
  • active support of change
  • In summary: Clarification of the "what" and "why"

This contrast makes the following clear: Leadership is something entirely different than management. And for digital change, what we need is leadership in particular. Let's take the central cornerstones, such as purposefulness, intense personal communication and the support of change. Based on these, we can sketch out 5 leadership guidelines for the digital transformation:

  1. Clearly acknowledge your commitment to the digital transformation - explicitly and repeatedly: Constantly communicate your objective, emphasize the urgency and necessity of the transformation. Profess speed as an objective: Be quicker than before and quicker than the competition.

  2. Monitor the agreed implementation personally: The next management levels and the staff as a whole must recognize that you are really serious and that desired changes do not peter out. Display your presence in individual initiatives and become uncomfortable if agreed changes are protracted.

  3. Generation S will be a central part of your corporate culture: Employees from the start-up culture expect short, fast and decentralized decision paths as well as agile working methods. The self-conception and commitment of a start-up can be the guiding principle of the future corporate culture. Make use of this as a catalyst in your company!

  4. Employee orientation/within the team: First invest in teams, then invest in ideas and technologies! You need a reinforcement of your teams at all levels. Activate your employees and let them be independent. Opt for diversity in your teams and for problem-solving through cross-functional teams. Show that you see failure as a part and the learning and creation process and then you assume that 3 of the 4 ideas will not work. That's OK. And will inspire your company's development teams.

  5. Employee orientation/individual: Hiring and developing your employees are your most important investments. This involves giving your individual employees personal feedback reviews and individual recognition in a timely manner (instead of formal employee assessments). Take the low significance of financial incentives into consideration. True motivation happens when  individual employees experience the purposefulness of their actions and identify with the overarching and social relevance of their work. Only this generates loyalty, commitment and ultimately, successful innovation.