The digital transformation era — and the pandemic era that is adding to the challenge — calls for a shift in leadership mindset. It’s essential to challenge the assumptions that we use to make decisions and identify valuable opportunities. Those assumptions allow experienced leaders to make choices efficiently in a complex world, but when the world changes, those assumptions can become anchors holding them back.
In previous articles, I’ve discussed ways in which companies and managers can benefit from rethinking assumptions about how employees work and the expectations of customers post-COVID-19. If those help to craft a new vision of the future, there is still the question of how to make that vision real. In this article, I’ll look at ways leaders can rethink assumptions about driving transformation to help their companies thrive in times of constant upheaval.
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Transformation Assumption 1:
Digital transformation is a technical challenge.
This assumption is dangerous because it feels so true. In fact, it never has been true. Many companies are adopting new technologies, but few are doing it well. Technology produces nothing for a company on its own. The real challenge is changing the business using technology. In other words, when leaders think about digital transformation, transformation is tougher and arguably more important than digital.
That’s why the digital masters identified in Leading Digital (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014), a book I coauthored with Didier Bonnet and Andrew McAfee, excel not only at digital capabilities but also at leadership capabilities. Quality leadership plays a key role here because it provides a company with the ability to continuously envision and drive useful transformation. Digital masters build digital capabilities by embedding the right technologies into the right parts of their customer experience, operations, employee experience, and business models. They also build strong leadership capabilities to drive the transformational change that leads to business results.
In the face of constantly evolving technologies and fast-moving startups, it can be tempting to think that a strategy focused on keeping up with technical innovation will provide a competitive edge. However, focusing only on digital and not transformation sets you up for failure. You need the leadership capability to innovate — and execute — on the options that technology enables.