Digital Leadership – Myth, Mystery or Opportunity?

Digitalization is certainly one of the hottest and urging trends across all industries. No doubt. Unfortunately it is as well very much “over-buzzed” and the real anchor points for this transformation are sometimes getting out of focus. Although benefits are obvious:

  • By the extensive use of technology and software together with innovatively rethought approaches to business new products can be offered;
  • Customer experience will be positively changed;
  • Also new efficiencies can be raised.

The competitive landscape of companies might change dramatically – either to their advantage or to their disadvantage. In order to rise as a winner from this revolutionary phase, pro-active leadership and management is needed.

1. Meanwhile it became crystal-clear, that the main and primary success factor for digital transformation of companies is PEOPLE.
2. Secondary are the availability of technologies, appropriate processes, complexity, knowledge etc.

And the reason is obvious and simple: The right people on key positions throughout the whole organization will take care of the secondary success factors, find solutions and drive the digital transformation successfully forward while overcoming the challenges and pushing forward. We call these people ‘Digital Leaders’. Digital transformation halts, or fails, for many reasons—but most often it is because minor changes at the surface level do nothing to affect the fundamental operations of a company. Transformations are done by leaders and the people they influence. And as the changes need to percolate throughout the organization, it consequently leads to the fact that leaders on all levels have to be in the focus of a company’s people strategy allowing for a successful digital transformation.

Now, the question is on the table, what the appropriate HR strategy needs to be? Is the recruitment of ‘native digital leaders’ from start-up environments the main goal? Are these people available on the market? Are they affordable? Or more important: Can they survive in your corporate organization and environment?

On the other hand all organizations have – at least up to a certain extent – talented and ‘digital change-minded leaders’ on board who can drive digital transformation processes. And as an essential advantage, these talents know, how to navigate through the corporate networks and jungle areas in order to drive topics in the desired direction with success. Consequently the arising questions are:

  • Where and who are these talents in your organization?
  • What are the competencies and traits you have to look for?
  • How to identify them?

On top to general good leadership competencies, the digital era is imposing more traits. Digital Leaders have to feel comfortable in a testing and learning environment, handle quick cycles of trial and error, demonstrate curiosity and learning agility, deal comfortably with ambiguities and apply their learnings and develop new ideas as well as taking on new challenges. In a nutshell: Learning-, challenge- and active change competencies have to be distinct.

For us, the overall conclusion is straightforward: The composition of talents is the key aspect to execute a successful transformation in traditional companies! The successful HR strategies are hybrid strategies, combining on one hand Digital Change-Minded Leaders who are internal talents in traditional organizations, digital oriented and capable of transformation and on the other hand, Native Digital Leaders who have to be externally recruited from pure digital or start-up organizations, alternatively also from traditional companies/industries being more advanced in digital strategies.

Assessment Systems conducted a lot of projects and did extensive research which revealed detailed must-have profiles of the two leader categories described above. We are able to identify the key positions and define the relevant transformational and leadership competencies. We carve out which position should be hired externally with a digital native leader and where an internal talent is more appropriate. With our tool-set we identify the key talents in the company and we define the selection profile for external recruiting. It is important to us, that all decisions are prepared in an objective and data-driven approach in order to guarantee highest professional quality in order to enhance the digital leadership in companies by far which will lead to strong digital transformation capabilities. And moreover, these companies will be perceived as digital leaders itself in their market segment and beyond.