Digital Leadership

In Collaboration With:

The Digital Leadership Initiative explores the growing use of digital technologies in the business landscape. Through a series of annual reports, blogs, articles, and case studies, the exploration examines how companies are cultivating opportunities and addressing risks in a fast-moving, digital market environment.

As more companies strive to develop new digital capabilities, many are making significant changes to their organizational culture, strategy-making process, and talent management efforts. These shifts raise important questions about what it means to lead a digital business. These questions, and more, are the focus of MIT SMR’s Big Ideas Digital Leadership Initiative.

Research and analysis for this program is in collaboration with Deloitte Digital, which also provides financial support.

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How to Succeed Without Being the Smartest Person in the Room

  • Read Time: 7 min 

Traditionally, many management roles have involved defining individual tasks and specific processes for completing them. Today, leaders need three very different management approaches, particularly as they rely more on empowered teams. Instead of defining jobs, they need to be establishing missions. Instead of making decisions, they need to be facilitating decisions. And instead of allocating resources, they need to be eliminating obstacles.

You’re Going Digital — Now What?

Plotting digital change is heady, exciting stuff. But success depends less on inspiration at the 30,000-foot level than on the way people on the front lines implement new digital tools. Most leaders aren’t laying a foundation for employees to succeed, largely because they don’t have any idea what really happens at the ground level. To avoid that fate, they must understand the phases of digital adoption and then plan in reverse to create the right conditions.

What Does It Mean to Lead?

Are management and leadership entwined in a digital world? Or are they distinct activities, one more important than the other? Can you be closely involved in day-to-day operations, as data-driven tools allow and encourage, without watching and directing employees’ every move? How do you cede top-down control without courting chaos? And how do you eliminate entrenched practices that obstruct change? Experts wrestle with these questions and share their perspectives on how leadership is evolving.

Leading Remotely

Digital tools make remote teams possible, but it’s not easy to wrangle an increasingly distributed workforce. Leaders must grapple with problems in several key areas: communication, project management, talent development and management, and reliable access to technology. Still, those who take steps to harness the strengths of remote work while minimizing the drawbacks will find themselves with a highly motivated, invested team.

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The Best of This Week

  • Read Time: 2 min 

This week’s must-reads for managing in a digital age: just because companies recognize re-skilling and upskilling is critical doesn’t mean they’re doing it right. Also, how to choose charts everyone understands, where blockchain is headed in the enterprise, and words of wisdom for managing your career in an age of uncertainty.

What We Publish, and Why

When we consider articles for publication, we look for three things: ideas that will help managers navigate an increasingly digital world, evidence-based thinking, and accessible frameworks and recommendations that readers can apply. We’re eager to hear from our readers about what they value in MIT SMR, what topics they would like to see us explore more often or more deeply, and what we could do better.

Creating Digital Offerings Customers Will Buy

How can companies decide which new digital offerings to pursue? Successful digital offerings are created at the intersection of what technologies can deliver and what customers want and will pay for. That point of intersection, however, has proved to be elusive. To find it, companies must experiment repeatedly, cocreate with customers, and assemble cross-functional development teams — and the insights gleaned along the way must be shared internally.

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The Best of This Week

  • Read Time: 2 min 

The must-reads MIT SMR editors are most excited about this week, including: Why emotion is a key ingredient for getting customer experiences to stick, what we can learn from Germany’s platform economy, the best leader for your digital transformation effort might not be the obvious candidate, and more.

Digital Success Requires Breaking Rules

  • Read Time: 6 min 

Developing new rules for the digital age is proving uncomfortable for people at every organizational level. Digitization (the transformation for operational excellence) requires top-down leadership principles with centralized accountabilities, while success with digital business (the transformation toward rapid innovation) requires local empowerment with distributed accountabilities. These are basically opposite approaches to accountability, but they’re both necessary.

Accelerating Digital Innovation Inside and Out

In the 2019 Digital Business Report, MIT SMR and Deloitte’s survey analysis and executive interviews unveil the distinctive characteristics of innovation in digitally maturing organizations. Ecosystems and cross-functional teams allow them to be agile, but this increased agility demands a thorough consideration of governance as well.

Four Profiles of Successful Digital Executives

  • Frontiers

  • Research Highlight
  • Read Time: 10 min 

Hoping a jack-of-all-trades can lead your organization’s digital transition is unrealistic. We found four distinct types of successful digital executives who can best provide vision and purpose for digital. Crucially, each type has unique strengths and performs best in different contexts.

How Digital Trust Drives Culture Change

  • Frontiers

  • Research Highlight
  • Read Time: 10 min 

Beliefs and behaviors in today’s virtual world blur the definitions and boundaries of responsibility for data privacy, which is reshaping consumers’ expectations of protection. Organizations seeking to adapt their culture toward better digital trust face many challenges but can benefit from four activities in their journey toward better digital trust.

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It Pays to Have a Digitally Savvy Board

Companies whose boards of directors have digital savvy outperform companies whose boards lack it: Among companies with over $1 billion of revenues, 24% had digitally savvy boards, and those businesses significantly outperformed others on key metrics such as revenue growth, ROA, and market cap growth. Companies can improve their boards by knowing what characteristics to look for in existing and new board members, managing board agendas differently, and cultivating new learning opportunities.

How Digital Leadership Is(n’t) Different

Many of us assume that the leadership handbook must be completely rewritten for the digital age. Is this true? Or are we overly focused on what’s changing and thus neglecting the fundamentals? There is something to be said for both arguments. While many core leadership skills remain the same, the demands of digital disruption call for certain new ones, as well. This article explores which are which and what we can learn from organizations that are digitally maturing.

Act Like a Startup

  • Read Time: 7 min 

As leaders of established businesses focus on becoming digital, they often embrace the mantra, act like a startup. A startup is an experiment, and its early goal is to learn, as quickly and inexpensively as possible, if an idea has merit. That same ability to figure out how a new value proposition might create revenues and profits is key to digital success. Established companies that want to test ideas for such propositions should be nurturing four traits of startups.

Let Your Digital Strategy Emerge

  • Read Time: 7 min 

What can digital technologies do to help an organization solve customer problems? And what solutions will customers find valuable? It’s only when leaders wrestle with these questions that a digital strategy can emerge. To get there, organizations need to create a portfolio of business experiments and engage with customers to gain insight into their problems and potential solutions. The intersection between what’s possible and what’s desired is where a business will succeed.

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