Smart Leader Seeks to Improve and Speed up Digitalization

Digitalization is not just a thing that you can shove at IT department and cross your fingers in hopes of success. Today’s business leader understands that digital transformation is not just about the latest and coolest technology but about a lot more. It covers the whole organization and in order to succeed it requires a lot more than the technology. Actually the ability to lead – or the lack of it – is in key position when looking at the success of the transformation.

Leading the change like digitalization pays off, since the life cycle of companies is shrinking and even 75% of S&P 500 companies are going to be replaced by 2027 mostly due to the inability to change. [1] In this article we will see how a leader can speed up digitalization and improve its effect on his/her company.

Strategic and customer centric approach pay off

HBR recently published a report that focuses on accelerating the pace and impact of digital transformation. Those companies that succeed the best at digitalization can be typically found at technology sector and only 20% of the companies can be seen as leaders. Out of these leading companies 98% strongly state that within two years their organizations expect positive business outcomes from the use of digital technologies. However, also the followers and laggards are expecting very likely positive outcomes.[2]

What makes one company a leader and other one a follower? HBR*s report states that in a leading company digital tools are considered strategically and as part of their overall competitiveness. The tools are also used in decision making, to launch new products and to develop new business models. Additionally they focus on customer-facing touch points and collaboration both internally and externally.[3]

When you look at these qualities among leaders, they are strongly related to leadership and how strong the digitalization can be seen in their own work practices. Here we can see that leaders should first learn themselves to work strategically and in a customer centric way with digitalization. Thus, they should be in the forefront of the change and only after that start leading it.

Smart leader seeks to speed up and improve the effects of digitalization. This requires change management skills.

Leader should break down barriers and support the right things

According to Altimeter successful digital transformation is based on a clear purpose, vision and motivated people, so the change should have a face. There is clearly a need for good leadership here and the leaders and change agents to should come out of their silos and take a central role. [4] In case the digital transformation is not led in a human-centric way and the guidance and best practices are not shared among personnel, the company will very likely be sidetracked. Without a dedicated leader and engagement the change can be halted before it even begins.

Unfortunately the needed leadership skills, vision and approach are often broken or their level is too weak. Although people like to blame the technology prowess, budget, or access to extraordinary talent, the larger problems can be found in inability to experiment, change management skills, legacy systems, a risk-averse culture, and organizational silos.[5] These problems are important places, where the skills of the leadership must be developed.

Leaders are also in important position, when recruiting new employees or shaping the skills of the current employees so that they are favorable to digitalization. Three most important skills for employees in digital transformation are the ability to adapt to change, customer-focused problem solving, and collaboration and communication skills. [6] Leaders should seek to find or grow these in their employees.

What to do when you have skills, but you are constantly out of time?

The unfortunate fact is that even the skilled leaders and managers are overloaded with daily tasks and they don’t have the time or the energy to focus on change. As we stated in the beginning, digital transformation is much more than just technology and requires change management skills. But technology is also the very thing that can make leading change easier. There are various tools that have been developed for these exact problems, as we go through in out blog “Leading change with digital tools“. By utilizing digital tools, change management becomes easier and they are a strong aid for the leaders of any organization.



[1] Foster, R.N. (2012) Creative Destruction Whips through Corporate America: S&P 500 Lifespans Are Shrinking

[2] A Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Report. (2016) Accelerating the Pace and Impact of Digital Transformation.

[3] A Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Report. (2016) Accelerating the Pace and Impact of Digital Transformation.

[4] Altimeter /Solis. B. & Szymanski, J. (2016) The Race Against Digital Darwinism: Six Stages of Digital Transformation.

[5] A Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Report. (2016) Accelerating the Pace and Impact of Digital Transformation.

[6] A Harvard Business Review Analytic Services Report. (2016) Accelerating the Pace and Impact of Digital Transformation.


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