We have transcended to the digital era, and the critical thing that needs to happen is a full digital transformation. Unfortunately, many large and medium corporations are still working on a traditional business model. The best organisations have made this transformation not just in terms of upgrading technology but also in terms of the actual root, which is leadership.
Organisational culture comes from the leaders, and many leaders are not trained to manage in the digital era. The reality is that 2019 will be the final year before the pressure gets put on organisations to get on board.
In 2020, we will see a massive increase in the workforce. Gen Z will be joining the workforce. The Millennials and Gen X will be getting more leadership roles. More people are at work and need to work for longer. It’s down to the new leaders who will comprise of Gen Y and millennials. There is a sense of urgency with all the factors coming together in 2020 to create what I like to call, the perfect storm.
I just completed research where I found that Asia is the most progressed region in digital leadership. Asia’s hierarchy is flattening out, and new leadership skills are emerging. Asia is leapfrogging ahead of traditional Western organisations of the 1950s to 1990s. The Western organisations have grown step by step over the decades but from a digital point of view, emerging markets in Asia, especially China and Japan, are able to learn quickly and not go through that journey anymore.
What limits the Western countries?
Leaders are just not owning the process of what it takes to be a digital business. Similar to the US and the UK, Australia is not performing as compared to its Asian counterparts. In Europe, immobilisation is an added issue. The organisations in the Eurozone have consistent policy and procedures in place, but they are slow to change the rules and regulations. It takes years to get anywhere, and as a result, countries in the Eurozone are lagging behind everyone else in the world. They are even lagging behind countries in Europe that are outside of the Eurozone.
So, what is Asia doing that everyone else isn’t?
It’s not that Asia is doing things differently, but Asia is applying learnings by looking outside and shaping the way that they work to adapt to the requirements. While the West is focused on its own ways, Asian countries like China and Vietnam are marrying success stories from both the East and the West.
For instance, China has aspirations to go global, and they can already see how communications is able to do that. This aspiration helps them implement changes, and they are able to break out of the traditional ways of working in both the political and commercial sense. State level factors also impact the behaviour of leaders.
It helps that Asia has authoritarians that are not controlling. There’s a directive where it's needed, and that brings with it clarity, direction and speed of action. There’s a lot of freedom within that.
Country differences aside, the next worry in the digital era is whether there’ll be enough jobs for everyone globally. Are people going to lose their jobs?
The fear of job loss due to technology has been occurring throughout history. In the 1500s, William Lee invented ways for cotton mills to make 5 garments in the same time that it took to make 1 garment. The Queen of England said that technology would take the jobs away. This happened again in the 1800s and once again in the 1960s where you have the revolution of increased automation, computers and machines.
All the fear of losing jobs was nonsense because it created way more jobs that no one even knew about yet. The media is focusing on the negative, they are focusing on The Terminator and making automation seem like it’s replacing humans. The media claims that 47% of jobs will be eliminated but completely ignore all the new industries and jobs created.
There will be a massive acceleration and growth of the independent workforce. It’s all about how we will leverage both human resource and technology. Traditional enterprises today model the old organisational mindset and culture, but in the digital era, there needs to be disrupted ways of working.
The traditional organisations are behind the curve while new organisations have embraced this much more. The Ubers and Airbnbs of the world are marrying both digital and human factors, and that is where people are winning.
So, how can you be a better leader in the digital era? There are some mindsets which are critical to have. Once you've internalised these mindsets, you'll find that you can be better at leading in this digital era.
Consider working in huddle spaces and embrace new ways of working. Today, it’s also all about the competitive advantage of where you flatten things out, so you know where your competition is from. The future of work is about being more attuned with the digital era while maintaining the human touch. Leverage on human capital in a new way.
Be open to having fewer permanent staff and more freelancers or part-time staff. The reality is that the shared economy is evolving and it’s time to look into freelance workers for a more flexible business with fewer overheads. We need to be okay with some of our staff holding 3 jobs at a time.
I was in a company that was innovating externally, but internally it ran in a very traditional and hierarchical way. Personally, now for my business, I have decided to reduce permanent staff and move more towards freelance teams – which is the new way of working. Only my client services is internal. Everything else is outsourced. What I learnt quickly as a leader is that it takes a different approach to managing such teams. This needs to be communicated to the rest of the organisation.
Communication is vital because it reinforces clarity and helps flatten out the organisation a bit more so that managers are leading and aren’t focused on executing. Communication comes with reinforcement and direction. Feedback is important so that people feel like they are a part of the change and this leads to a more collaborative approach.
Ultimately, communication is the human glue that will give you the edge in the digital era.
Some people don’t realise they need to improve their leadership ability. The best leaders are embracing, shaping and training managers to manage in new ways. They are changing the ways that employees engage and how that impacts the speed and benefits externally.
Ask yourself some deep questions first. Many leaders are looking tactically at the transformation coming ahead, but it’s not an overnight tactical move. It requires new systems for HR processes and new ways of thinking. It will take time and commitment to lead in this manner. It starts with the mindset. The will to do this helps you win.
As a leader, you must engage with the customer or client and understand what is happening in the marketplace so you can keep up with the competitive threats of today. You need to have a more operational understanding of what is happening on the ground both internally and externally so that you can develop better strategies.
Since technology is taking away all the baggage, through artificial intelligence and other technology, there is more time and energy to focus on the business and the people. Which is why I emphasise that the human touch is more important than ever before.
Embrace the new agile way of working. Come up with new ways of leading in terms of how you manage, motivate, measure and reward the independent, freelance or part-time workforce so that they see the value in working with you.
The mistake that people often make is that they start to do this and then they stop. They go down the path a little and think it’s too hard, and they give up. Short-term thinking comes into play here where they think of focusing on other things first instead of addressing this type of leadership, and the cycle then repeats.
You need to have a long-term strategy and not a short-term tactic. You have to make the time to do it.
Part of the strategy in the digital era is to have a diverse workforce where you have a broader mix of people who are working with you from all parts of the world and have a different culture. Your resources don’t have to be local anymore. You can be culture free, but you need managers to lead this diverse nature of people.
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Performance Works International