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Bridging the Gap: Leadership in the Age of Digital Transformation

We recently had a conversation with Google Philippines’ Ken Lingan about DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2018 findings about digital transformation. Read on to hear what he had to say.

What is the number-one thing causing digital disruption today?

Smartphones have been a main catalyst on the digital shift. And it’s not just about people getting connected. Smartphones are also changing how consumers behave. When you have that connectivity in your pocket, your behavior totally changes. And every single industry is affected or disrupted by this, which is why there’s greater urgency now for people to drive it.

It’s only now that leaders are seeing [what happens when they don’t keep up with] digital disruption, and we’re going to see more and more of these situations where a lot of companies are seeing behavior shifts. Perhaps they’re clearly seeing engagement and the ability to reach consumers through digital. There’s always an exponential gap that happens between companies that are digitally ready and those that are not, and the rate of change will only accelerate.

How can companies keep up with rapid technological changes?

The tech industry is moving so fast, [and] all the fixation and focus is on responding and changing and pivoting with the tech. And if you grow really fast, more often, you don’t really think about the investment of time to develop leaders. I think the [GLF 2018] study really brought to life that the employees themselves are yearning for development, and perhaps that seems to be the part that is neglected in [an organization’s] overzealousness to focus on growth.

Companies who just focus on making sure its people “seize the day” without thinking about long-term strengthening of the bench and how to uplift the entire team in terms of their own development are going to miss out.

How do companies become successful in the digital era?

You don’t do digital. You become digital. To be successful in the digital era, you need to be good at both the hard skills—the technical knowhow—and equally good at the soft skills—the human part of it. A lot of people fall in love with the tech, thinking, “If we buy another platform, we’re good,” but you need to have the right culture, as well. You need the mindset and culture to lean more towards the openness to experimentation—by creating an environment where failure can really happen.

The way they should look at any digital transformation initiative—it’s not the end. Digital transformation is the means, not the end. So be very clear with your first set of goals and why you are using digital to help you get there.

How do we fare in terms of skills set?

I think we rated ourselves quite generously [in our soft skills] but that’s not what I see in the market. A lot of businesses have been asking for help, and I think the range of questions has moved from the past few years from “Why?” to “How?” when it comes to digital. But even then, the fact that they’re asking these questions clearly shows that there is a gap.

Interviewees may think they’re collaborative, with x level of experimentation or adaptability, and they may rate themselves high on that one, but the level of the way you should demonstrate the skills is amplified in the digital era. A better question would be, “How fast do you experiment?” Maybe they would say, “I’ve done pilots,” but the magnitude of doing it as fast as possible, the level of collaboration now that you’re talking to other people—in a digital era, it’s demanding a higher level. I think the benchmark has definitely gone higher. We need a reality check.

How can a leader help lead her company through digital transformation?

I’ve met leaders who are genuinely passionate about current technology. They immerse themselves in digital and don’t leave it to the people to attend trainings. Leaders embracing it, immersing themselves, asking the right questions, and trying to understand are the ones who drive the organization to a better future.

Why is it important to give room to fail?

Having the commitment to start a pilot—creating an environment, creating a space, giving them resources—will give more confidence in the skills towards investing more in digital, and perhaps getting more talent to be involved in the process. Start with pilots that would get the ball rolling just to get started, rather than being paralyzed because the pieces aren’t together, and build confidence from that.

To find out more about bridging the gap, check out DDI’s GLF 2018 findings on Data and Digital now.

Talk to an Expert: Bridging the Gap: Leadership in the Age of Digital Transformation
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