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The rapid pace of technological change means many people in leadership roles are unprepared for the digital era, writes Jim Hamill.

A new survey of 2,000 senior executives, by Deloitte, concludes that many are struggling to develop effective strategies in today's rapidly changing markets. Faced with an ever-increasing array of new technologies, leaders acknowledged they have too many options from which to choose and, in many cases, lack the strategic vision to help guide their efforts.

Organisations are struggling to keep up with developments such as artificial intelligence, the internet of things and automation. They also face rising expectations from employees and customers.

A 2018 study by Capgemini concluded that 65 per cent of the 750 organisations surveyed lacked the leadership capabilities to drive transformational change. Worryingly, this represented a sharp decline in firms’ general readiness for digital transformation compared to a similar study carried out six years ago.

Our own research supports this.

Since April 2018, senior managers representing 200 organisations from 20+ countries have attended our ‘Leading Digital’ Workshops. Using a live Interactive Polling Tool, the sessions have provided valuable insight into the current State of Digital Transformation covering the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

Key findings are:

  • Eighty-six per cent of executives agreed that their industry/their organisation is under threat of being disrupted. Twenty-five per cent stated that ‘big bang’ disruption is taking place now.
  • A broad range of technologies and societal changes were identified as having a disruptive impact including mobile connectivity; social media; the cloud; big data and predictive analytics; Internet of Things/Industry 4.0; digital workplaces; artificial intelligence, automation and robotics; 3D printing (additive manufacturing); wearables; augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR); autonomous vehicles/drones; the Blockchain.
  • Despite growing awareness of the need for change, less than one-third of participants agreed that digital transformation had ‘already become mission critical’ for their organisation.
  • Fewer than 25 per cent of respondents claimed to have an agreed transformation vision and strategy guiding the future direction of change.
  • Almost two-thirds of the organisations polled (62%) stated that they were facing a digital leadership crisis ‘at least to some extent’.

It is now widely accepted that successful digital transformation is first and foremost about changing people, organisation and culture. Technology is just the facilitator of change.

Consequently, a new breed of senior executive is required: leaders of change for the digital era—leaders combining high level business knowledge, experience and understanding with the ability to develop and implement digital supported transformation strategies fully aligned with and supportive of agreed business outcomes. Leaders who possess both the confidence and personal skills to overcome the many barriers to transformational change, especially people, organisational, and cultural barriers.

Successful leaders of change for the digital era require a broad range of hybrid skills and experience. ‘Knowing about IT stuff’ is no longer enough.

It is estimated that organisations worldwide will spend in excess of $2 trillion on digital transformation initiatives by 2021. Without leaders of change for the digital era, most of these initiatives will fail.

It’s never been more important for senior executives and managers, from both the private and public sectors, to equip themselves with the knowledge and skills needed to navigate an era of turbulent digital change.

In October 2019, Jim Hamill will be leading a two-day 'Leadership in a Digital Era' Masterclass at the University of Edinburgh Business School.

Leadership in a Digital Era Masterclass