To thrive in the Digital world, companies need to reinvent themselves on a regular basis. Reinvention in the Digital age requires 2 things: a belief that Digital transformation is within reach, and the ability to change points of view on what was previously known as fact. Neither of these are truly accomplished without strong leaders with a bold approach!
But first, what the heck is the Digital Age and Digital Transformation? Let’s get grounded in some history. The age just prior to the 18th century was the Agricultural Age. It was the period when mostly agrarian, rural societies became industrial and urban  – hence the Term the Industrial Revolution beginning somewhere between the 18th and 19th century. The Industrial Revolution is often characterized by the development of the iron and textile industries, the steam engine and the computer  . Many believe we are in the midst of moving to the next age, we just don’t know what to call it yet! I’m sure at the turn of the Agricultural Age people didn’t instantly call it the Industrial Revolution. This new age has been called the Digital Age, the Cognitive Age and the Age of Accelerations. Some call it the 4th Industrial Revolution. Since the breadth and depth of the current technology landscape is changing entire systems of production, management, and governance , I believe we are moving out of the Industrial Revolution. All debating aside – this time what we are in is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres . Advancements in computer power will soon reach beyond Moores law as we start to see quantum computing become a reality. Still hard to get your head around? Suffice it to say, the exponential changes in technology are creating an accelerated business pace that require companies to reinvent themselves regularly in order to remain relevant. Hence the need for a bold approach to leadership.
Let’s break down a bold approach to leadership into three components:
- Having a Bold Vision for the future
- Achieving an Exponential Pace
- Delivering through Strong Execution
- Bold Vision
One of the primary roles of a Leader is to set the vision for the future. To thrive in a digital world, that vision needs to be BOLD, very BOLD. At the same time, the vision must be believable. After all, everyone involved must believe that digital transformation is within reach. This requires the Leader to move beyond the typical role of setting the vision, to also being an Evangelist for the vision. An evangelist in the digital age keeps up with the latest technology (even if not in charge of IT or digital products), interacts with experts, and finds real examples of where at least components of their vision have been realized in the market. The role of the evangelist also involves, educating leadership, peers, staff and partners on the details, and convincing others to follow. A customer ‘in’ approach is key, with deep knowledge of the customer and what customer problems need to be solved. This is very different from a product and services ‘out to the customer’ approach.
- Exponential Pace
Thomas L. Friedman is well known for writing the book ‘The World is Flat’. Mr. Friedman also wrote the book ‘THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE – An optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations’. In chapter two he introduces Astro Teller’s Graph showing technology reaching an exponential pace and human adoption falling behind  .
The bold approach to leadership jumps right into the gap, providing ways to learn faster and govern smarter. To achieve an exponential pace without burning everyone out, it’s essential to change points of view on things that were previously know as fact. For example, with a traditionally architected business system like many ERPs, end to end process standardization was essential to an efficient and cost-effective implementation and lifecycle. With modernly architected platforms using microservices, the steps in a process can be standardized with end to end process variability using standardized components. This is essential given the pace at which business models need to be adjusted and requirements change. Reaching an exponential pace also requires adoption of current technologies like artificial intelligence, augmented reality and blockchain to name a few. Implementation is not done individually, but rather through partners with solid Application Platform Ecosystems (APE)  . And yes, everything really can move to the cloud, which is an article in and of itself.
- Strong Execution
Strong execution has always been a requirement for success. Strong execution in the digital age requires the adoption of process accelerators. For example, companies, regardless of how large, will never have all the talent they need to thrive in a digital world. The adoption of process accelerators such as Crowd Sourcing, Crowd Funding, and Open Source Platforms can fill the talent gap. It’s also critical to make sure the company is working on the right products and services. Establishing process accelerators around Customer Centricity to move to a Customer ‘in’ approach are essential. Other process accelerators to adopt include: Micro-Tasking/Micro-Services, the Sharing Economy, Agile Methodology, and Business Accelerators (commonly used for start-ups and useful for innovation projects).
Sample Bold Vision
In closing, let’s look at a sample Bold Vision. Not the inspirational one sentence type of vision, but a vision in the form of an outline of a digital transformation strategy meant to be executed in 18 months. A strategy that moves all business process changes and new business models to the cloud, runs all projects in an agile methodology, and delivers technology enablement at or faster than the speed of business:
- Customer Focused Transformation – flip to an ‘outside in’ approach, starting with the customer and resulting in transformed products and services
- Commitment to Deliver
- Spend Less – through a digital architecture, execution excellence and exiting the past
- Deliver More – through customer focused teams, best talent and digital data
- Finish Faster – through speed to value, external partner collaboration, and agile delivery and operations
- Deliver a modern business technology architecture
Do you believe this vision is possible in 18 months in a large complex company? Hint – this is not a hypothetical vision. It’s a vision from 2015, executed by the 3rd quarter of 2016 in a very large, complex business unit.
A bold approach to leadership in the Digital Age requires: a Bold Vision for the future, achieving an Exponential Pace, and delivering through Strong Execution.
 “Industrial Revolution”. History Channel
 Book by Thomas L. Friedman ‘THANK YOU FOR BEING LATE – An optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations’
 Application Platform Ecosystems (APE) from the Book by Jedidiah Yueh ‘DISRUPT OR DIE – What the World Needs to Learn from Silicon Valley to Survive the Digital Era’
About the Author
Kerrie Hoffman is a Certified Business Coach, Digital Advisor and Speaker. She is currently the owner of FocalPoint Business Coaching, a Hoffman Advantage LLC Company.
Kerrie specializes in business growth and digital transformation. She has experience in multiple Industries where she’s worked a variety of roles including CIO, operations, supply chain and sales. She was previously with Aurora Health Care, Johnson & Johnson and Johnson Controls. She was CIO of a Business Unit at Johnson Controls.