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Q&A: Why leadership matters for digital transformation (Includes interview)

Digital transformation is essential for most businesses, especially in staying competitive and with matching customer expectations. Do so requires an effective digital strategy and strong, focused leadership. Alignment on strategy, purpose and organizational capabilities are especially key to a successful transformation.

Effective leaders cultivate a dynamic culture and succeed in integrating their digital strategy with the company’s overall strategy. To gain an insight into how leaders can effectively steer their businesses through their transition, Digital Journal spoke with Janice Miller, Product Director, Leadership Programs, Corporate Learning at Harvard Business Publishing. The company produces print and digital products including the Harvard Business Review.

Digital Journal: How important is digital transformation for businesses?

Janice Miller: Digital transformation is the new normal for organizations seeking to adapt and excel in the
face of ever-accelerating change impacting the bottom line. However, digital transformation is as much a leadership approach as it is a strategic, technological and cultural process. Everyone has access to the technology, but not everyone has leaders with the vision to focus the available technology on what will make the most difference for their customers – and then use the technology to change the way they relate to their customers. It’s not just an IT issue – digital transformation requires company-wide support in order to be successful and drive true organizational change.

DJ: Is this so for all sectors and sizes of businesses?

Miller: Across the board we’re seeing organizations leveraging a combination of cloud, analytics, AI and machine learning along digital transformation journeys. From the financial sector, to telecom and retail, digital transformation is helping organizations better service customers, streamline operations and bolster organizational performance.

DJ: How successful is the typical business in undertaking the transformation process?

Digital transformation often requires a fundamental change to the business model. According to “7 Questions to Ask Before Your Next Business Transformation,” in Harvard Business Review, digital transformation failure rates are estimated to range from 66-84 percent. And that’s not surprising, given that leaders are trying to create entirely new leadership competencies and wedge them into their organization’s current culture and operational model. But, when leadership development is factored in, organizations have a greater likelihood of a successful transformation.

According to the 2018 State of Leadership Report from Harvard Business Publishing, organizations that say leadership development is critical to their success are 29 times more likely to have a successful transformation than those where leadership is viewed as not important. Before any organization embarks on a digital transformation journey, they need to have a clear vision of what they hope to achieve on this journey and not just implement new technology because its competitors are doing so.

DJ: Which roles within a business are critical for success?

Miller:Digital transformation requires multiple leadership roles in an organization to align everyone around the strategy, narrative and vision. For digital transformation to be successful, the CEO, IT leadership, and HR/Leadership and Development (L&D) leadership are the most critical roles to help drive success. These roles need to truly convey the benefits and strategy for digital transformation and ensure leaders across the organization are ready to support and implement. A successful transformation of any kind requires leaders who can step up early in the transformation process and inspire extraordinary levels of engagement in employees, managers, and executives.

Other traits are tapping into the power of teamwork and collaboration and quickly build business processes and systems to create the new while maintaining the old

DJ: What is the mindset that leaders require in order to actually succeed in a digital world?

Miller: Many of the capabilities require them to balance between a few key opposing ideas like providing vision while also empowering others and giving up control while also serving as “architect” of the choices. Plus being able to sustain the day-to-day work while also disrupting it for the future; rely on data but also trust their intuition and being skeptical but also staying open-minded.

In a follow-up interview, Janice Miller discusses the three major transposition lesson for organizations undergoing digital transformation. See: “Essential for DX success: Strategic alignment, agility and HR.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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