The Digital Management Mindset
Key Fact #1: Management of change starts with clear and perpetual top-to-bottom communication.
It is of little comfort to hear the phrase “change is a constant” when you already know you are surrounded by change. It is often a source of frustration for managers to recognize just how difficult it is to keep pace. Those who consciously wish to embrace change and push their companies forward tend to find themselves in a “no man’s land” bordered on one side by excess choice (“which new technology or trend should we embrace?”) and on the other by legacy challenges, including silos and insufficient support – or even outright reluctance – from the c-suite.
This results in a change process that happens in fits and starts, with small modifications or improvements dictated reactively to a problem that has already happened, by regional or departmental priorities, with short time horizons, localized budgets, and even a degree of territoriality. Such changes limit the results to a small and often insulated segment of an organization and do little to create long-lasting solidarity, momentum, and achievement.
Isolation does not merely restrict the successful deployment of change initiatives; it can also fragment the language needed for common understanding. The very definitions of terms such as digital or omnichannel take on their own lives depending on which department is using them. Without industry-consistent and company-wide agreement, progress – in terms of language and action – resembles horses set loose in a field, each running at their own pace and in their own direction.
The Relationship between Ransomware and Change Management
Key Fact #2: Change Management is not just about improvement. It’s also about defense.
A typical example of the schism that plagues so many companies can be seen in the concept called ransomware. Those organizations who find themselves victims of a ransomware heist suddenly find themselves in a flurry of panic and confusion. Typically, when a crisis of this type hits, senior management, IT, and average end users do not know how to talk to each other and do not have a viable action plan in place.
Hindsight might show that a ransomware event happened due to employee error (using an easy password or clicking on a phishing email link) and continued due to a lack of preparedness, including insufficient data backup protocols. But the root cause of the problem goes much further than that and points to a cultural gap in which senior management fails to see IT as a department worthy of a place at the strategic table. Given that a company lives and breathes through its computer technology, moment by moment communication with IT is vital for proactive activities such as planning and contingency awareness. This schism happens even in organizations that have a Chief Information Officer (CIO), Chief Data Officer (CDO) or Chief Technology Officer (CTO).
Should You Be on the Leading Edge or Behind the Curve?
A related challenge that springs from this cultural schism is the propensity for senior management to pursue a flavor of the month solution based on inadequate research and discussion. Currently, for example, a company that joins up with a blockchain provider might be doing so based on recent news about the impact of blockchain on the supply chain, or perhaps out of a fear of missing out on a cryptocurrency venture. A hasty leap into this type of digital world is fraught with danger, even if the initial instinct to join it is well-placed. The same mistake can happen in other areas of business too, such as hiring or work-life-balance/flextime policies, manufacturing, or marketing efforts.
The key here is to ensure the mindset that makes the decisions to move ahead with a venture is a collective one, a digital one, involving experienced members of the team who represent a broad and up-to-date selection of a company’s priorities.
Where should a company decide to place itself in relation to its competitors and to the marketplace? Is it more advantageous to be first out of the gate, being first to market with the product that everyone wants? Or is it wiser to place a company behind the adoption curve, allowing a competitor to make the mistakes, and giving time for the market to decide what it truly wants?
Both options have merit. It depends on a variety of factors that themselves depend on input from a collection of internal experts: the type of experts that need to be around that c-suite table.
Centralizing the Knowledge Base
Another place that companies often fall behind in terms of the digital mindset is in a revised and flattened approach to the internal sharing of information. This has traditionally been an area dominated by silos – with information about a particular department and its operations stored tightly within that department.
A better approach is an application of the Wikipedia model – an internal knowledge base that any employee can contribute to. The strength of Wikipedia on the internet relies on dual principles: 1. that anyone can contribute; and 2. that corrections and clarifications will be pursued by a collection of diligent volunteers.
In a corporate context, an internal wiki represents a place in which information remains vibrant and up-to-date, and which can include audio-visual components, a concept still vastly underused in enterprise generally.
Having a wiki demands a digital mindset that accepts the wiki concept, and this, too, is something that many in senior management have failed to grasp, out of distrust or simply a lack of direct experience in using Wikipedia beyond anything more than occasional Google searches.
Looking Beyond the Immediate Competition
The digital mindset is one that factors in a broader intake of best practices beyond simply analyzing the competitor across the street. For example, a significant transition is occurring in the field of adult education and professional development, as more and more employees turn to online learning modules to replace full-day in-class education. The modular format is more convenient, more mobile, and more easily conformable to an individual’s needs than is traditional teaching.
Traditionally a discussion about employee learning and professional development would be siloed into the HR department. Any new best practices might be embraced there and even deployed there, but the discussion would go no further.
The digital executive mindset, however, would open this concept up to a question: how might the modularization of education translate to our approaches in manufacturing, sales, quality assurance or delivery? In an age where automotive companies like Ford are redefining themselves from “car companies” to “transportation companies” or “mobility companies,” could there be any potential in extrapolating a change in the way education is being delivered, and applying the lesson to your company?”
Every industry is facing significant change, and catalysts of that change can often emerge from seemingly unrelated places. Any company whose executive is not ready to see beyond the delineations that were in place thirty years ago is potentially facing a quick decline into irrelevance.
Capitalizing on Data
Key Fact #3: Data is the fuel of the digital economy.
Data is king. Like the story of the goose that lays the golden egg, a customer’s data delivers the potential for a long-term relationship involving many transactions. From a retail store through to a B2B enterprise, there is more to be gained from data than a simple cash sale. For example, a company that sells compressed air to industry stands a better chance of ongoing viability by actually giving the air compressor to a customer and focusing on selling the air and services that support it, as well as consolidating customer data for up-sell, cross-sell, and loyalty opportunities. This is, in essence an extension of the model that has been used by men’s shaving products companies for years: give away the handle and make money on the blades; or home office printers – sell the printer at below cost and sell toner and online business services to that same customer.
Data is the fuel of the digital economy. The digital mindset makes it possible to see the many ways it can be used and re-used. If Management exhibits fear or resistance towards change in general or towards digital in particular, this can be mitigated through education at the highest level paired with testing and evaluation at the production level.
The Digital Mindset is About Keeping Pace with the Future
In short, the digital mindset, on an executive level is about ensuring that approaches to leadership, change, and strategy all embrace the willingness to keep pace with the current and future trends, in real time. Although five-year plans and long-term vision are vital components of an executive leadership portfolio, they must be balanced by a willingness to review a company on a much more frequent, day-to-day basis as well. As the Uber and Airbnb models ably demonstrated world-changing innovation can come out of the blue, and it can hit the marketplace very fast.
- Change is more of a constant than ever
- Create a culture of constant vigilance and communication
- Learn from the achievements and crises of others in your industry
- Learn from the innovators in unrelated industries
- Build a team that covers all your company’s key activities, including IT
- Use social media-inspired tools like Wikipedia to consolidate and use your employees’ experiences and wisdom
- Watch the leading-edge curve of change and decide where on that curve you want to be
- Focus on data as the currency of the future