Hands united over digital devices

Developing Today’s Networked and Digital Leadership

Networked and Digital Leadership will be at the core of the 8th edition of Social Now, which is taking place in Lisbon on 6 & 7 June 2019. Here’s why.

Much is currently said about digital transformation; little is said about the role of leadership in transformation efforts. Even less is said about the need to promote a networked and collaborative way of working, one in which knowledge is created by the network, shared throughout the network and retained for the network.


The need for Digital Leadership

A CIO article describes digital transformation as “a foundational change in how an organization delivers value to its customers”. This notion is driving a profusion of articles, books and conferences on the technologies to deliver that value (artificial intelligence, robotic process automation, big data, etc.). However, and despite the efforts and the available technology, actual results are lacking.

A 2017 EY study looked at the digital transformation journey of 36 telecommunication companies. It highlighted the need for organisational agility, for “new forms of ecosystem engagement” and “a shift in organizational mind-set, structure and interaction”.

“Digital leadership is the main thing holding back the digital workplace.” Lee Bryant

A more recent study by Capgemini reveals that many organisations are failing to bring their employees along on their digital transformation journey and are failing to create the necessary culture to make it possible. Only 36% of the 757 surveyed organisations agree that “there are possibilities for everyone in the firm to take part in the conversation around digital initiatives”. That is a 13% drop from 2012 which is surprising considering the number of tools available to enable those conversations.

A likely answer comes from Tariq M. Shaukat, President of the Customer Team at Google Cloud, quoted in the Capgemini report: “You need to create an environment where leadership is available for people to ask questions and get feedback. By giving employees the permission to speak, to collaborate, and to contribute, organizations end up moving people towards a more digital culture.”

The same report shows that:

  • only 35% of the organisations feel that “leadership is adopting new behaviors required for digital transformation”;
  • “employees can collaborate digitally with other employees as needed” in only 38% of the organisations;
  • “employees actively share their knowledge through collaborative digital platforms (e.g. Slack, Jira, Skype)” in only 35% of the organisations;
  • only 1 in 3 organisations has digital technologies to “improve communication between senior executives and employees”.

Lee Bryant defends that “how an organisation challenges and supports its senior people to become digital leaders” is a good predictor of maturity regarding digital transformation. He goes even further to suggest that “perhaps the most common and obstructive barrier to digital transformation in large organisations today is out-dated management culture and a lack of engagement among senior people with new digitally-supported ways of working”.

Therefore, it is key that organisations invest in developing digital leadership. But in order for that to happen it is necessary to understand what it means to be a digital leader.

To summarise

  • Digital leadership is key for organisations to obtain value from their digital transformation efforts;
  • There is a clear and generalised lack of digital leadership behaviours;
  • There is little knowledge of what tools exist and how to use them effectively to improve internal communication, collaboration and knowledge sharing.


What does it mean to be a Digital Leader?

There are a few traits, behaviours and approaches that make for a true digital leader.


Networked leadership

Harold Jarche writes that networked leadership “is about building work structures that align people with goals”. This involves promoting transparency and encouraging everyone to take responsibility for critical thinking, active experimentation, learning by doing and sharing the learning.

“Networked leadership is about helping make the network smarter, more resilient, and able to make more informed decisions.” Harold Jarche

The increased alignment, empowerment and transparency, allow each person to manage their work. The networked leader can thus focus more on the big picture and engage the whole organisation in deeper conversations. Making the network smarter is certain to improve business results and employee satisfaction.

Provocatively, but wisely, Thierry de Baillon believes that if technology is becoming a major enabler, leaders need to up their game. “We cannot transform people, but we can transform how they interact. That is leaders’ new mission.” That and “weaving the networks into the way the organisation works” rather than having networks as appendices to the dominant hierarchical way of working.


Servant leadership

The idea of a networked leader who works to make the network smarter is very much related to the concept of servant leadership.

“Servant leadership is a leadership philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve. (…) A servant leader shares power, puts the needs of the employees first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.” (Wikipedia, 5 dec 2018) This mindset enables everyone, both leaders and their teams, and increases staff engagement, something which is on the decline.

In a very thorough post on the topic, Luis Suarez goes as far as suggesting servant leadership to be the single most important concept for today’s leaders.

Leadership: “influence from any level and from any part of the organization that results in change”. Jane McConnell

Emanuele Quintarelli challenges the idea of leaders, traditionally perceived as those hierarchically superior. For him, every employee should be a contextual leader and he too talks about servant leadership. He defends “servant, empowering, natural, emergent, contextual” leadership as opposed to the all-too-frequent “heroic, directive, positional and control-based” leadership style.


Change management

Above all, a digital transformation programme is a change programme.

“Organisations don’t transform. People do”, says Kenneth Mikkelsen. “As a leader, you will need to change the way you learn, think and behave to stay relevant and transform your organisation”, he adds.

This means that leaders need to change but they also need to manage change which, as Jaap Linssen points out, “is one of the biggest challenges for leaders”. Managing change is extremely difficult because, as Jaap continues, it is hard “getting people to understand why change is needed; getting people to accept that change is needed; having people accept, understand, and execute the chosen actions to change”.


Distributed decision-making

Agility and responsiveness can only happen if the collective knowledge of the organisation is engaged.

“Narrating your work and feeding your network is a crucial skill for leadership in the agile era, but it is absolutely not the norm today. That needs to change.” Lee Bryant

No manager, no leader, is able to do it all in today’s fast-paced world. As Lee Bryant puts it, “intelligence and small-scale decision-making must be distributed to the edges of the organisation, so that each team and function is free to learn and adapt based on customer and market feedback”.

To summarise

Digital leaders should work to:

  • make the network smarter;
  • enable the network;
  • strengthen the network;
  • inspire the network;
  • engage the network.

In order to do this, digital leaders will need to:

  • ensure that vision, goals and knowledge, are shared by all;
  • develop each person and help them be their best selves;
  • trust people’s knowledge, experience and commitment;
  • guide people through change, with wise words and matching actions;
  • give people the tools to achieve all the above; and,
  • show people how to explore the tools to achieve all the above.


What role can enterprise social tools play?

This post starts by saying that there is too much conversation about digital transformation tools and little concern over the required change in leadership behaviours. It thus seems ironic that the post ends on the role of tools.

However, while the tools usually included in the “digital transformation bundle” focus on improving the processes which support the business model, enterprise social tools focus on enabling the digital leaders and the (people) network who are the business.

When looking to make the network smarter and engage its members, Jaap Linssen’s experience shows that leaders can successfully use enterprise social tools to start conversations with the whole organisation. These conversations have the power to show the need for change and also to make everyone a part of the change; engaging their thoughts and empowering them to make meaningful contributions.

Lee Bryant, too, says that the use of social tools inside the organisation can increase leaders’ influence and presence, as well as “cultivate a kind of crowdsourced sense-making network of people who are ready and willing to offer feedback and responses”.

Celine Schillinger expresses this Marvel-ly, describing social tools as a superpower because they are “the network enhancer that living systems need to thrive”.

And she knows what she’s talking about. Celine has witnessed social collaboration tools being used to “overcome the traditional barriers and filters to information”, to ease “connections and conversations between people who might have otherwise never ‘met’”, and to unveil “the community of intent that’s out there”.

In fact, when used effectively, these internal platforms are powerful facilitators of knowledge retention and use, as they make it visible and more widely spread across the organisation.

Another huge gain from these also called social intranets comes from leaders seeing their work amplified and scaled. According to Jaap, leaders’ local actions become a lot more likely to have global impact.

It is therefore puzzling that so many organisations are missing out on these benefits. For Celine, they are missing “a great opportunity for new types of leaders to emerge. They are the ones who will help shape the conversations and ultimately evolve our organizations’ culture and performance”.

To summarise

Enterprise social tools can help leaders to:

  • engage the wide internal network in conversation;
  • increase their influence and presence;
  • crowdsource feedback and ideas;
  • improve the flow of knowledge and information.

To find out more about the topic, join us for Social Now 2019. Join Celine Schillinger, Kenneth Mikkelsen, Lee Bryant and several other experienced professionals from around the world, who will be there to help trace the profile of Digital Leaders and find enabling and transformational roles for enterprise social tools.

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