The Digital Shift: Changing How Leaders Think, Work and Learn

Digital isn’t just changing the way we work, it should change how we approach work. Emails, telecommuting, and data-driven reporting are just tools. If you still think, communicate, create and lead the way we did 20 years ago, then you’ll be just as irrelevant in the modern workplace as a typewriter.

Industry experts have forecast how digital will transform industries, organizations and teams – and what you need to do to stay in the game.

The shift in how you lead

Steve Jobs may have been instrumental in triggering the digital shift, but his notoriously authoritarian leadership style would never work today. That’s because nobody has all the answers anymore. Every year there are new trends, technologies, and competitors – a dictatorial and overcontrolling manager simply stifles and slows everyone down.

So leading isn’t about how much you know and do, but how you encourage people to ask, think, learn and do on their levels. Deloitte’s paper on The Changing Role of People Management in the Digital Era lists the leadership values that creates a culture of innovation:

  • Adaptable. You understand their individual work styles and strengths.

  • Tolerant. You allow people to share ideas, take risks, and give feedback.

  • Empowering. You encourage leadership at all levels. Your role is to give direction and remove barriers to their success.

  • Collaborative. You are the orchestra conductor who knows who to bring together for a project, and then makes harmony out of their different backgrounds, skills and cognitive styles.

  • Communicative. You make communication and feedback part of your team culture and daily processes.

The shift in how you think

“What is currently referred to as knowledge work—the formulation of plans, completion of forms and coordination of data files—will soon be done by software guided by algorithms. What remains is judgment work: balancing opposing views and stakes, crafting a plan of action and making decisions,” says Accenture’s report on how digital technologies are changing the way we work.

This means two things: you need to understand data, and then use it to make decisions. Many managers lie in the extremes. There are people who are paralyzed by data and demand definitive clues and zero-risk, high-profit solutions. For them, everything is based on numbers. On the other hand, there are those who fear data and resist it. They don’t like the technology, reports, or sudden demands to back up their insights with analytics. They’re offended that a machine may know more than they do. Or they claim that understanding data is the role of the Technology or the Research department, unable to see that in the digital age, everyone’s job now involves technology and research.

“No one disputes the value of contextual knowledge and human judgment, but it is a limited perspective—being able to see only what’s out your own window—that has most often prevented managers from seeing and exploiting opportunities for great gain,” says the Accenture report.

In reality, the best leaders lie in the middle. They are familiar with data, but use it to gain insight and take creative risks. They make “smart experiments” through a process of:

  • Checking data to make an informed strategy

  • Testing the strategy in a controlled selling

  • Analyzing the results to create a better strategy

  • Retesting and refining

Yes, you can fail. But you fail fast and learn fast, which allows you to move ahead of competitors and stay attuned to what really works for your market.  “Managers will have to recognize that their real value-added contribution will increasingly take the form of judgment rather than knowledge creation. Judgment requires insight drawn from experience, and experience often involves a form of experimentation.”

The shift in how we learn

Too much training is focused on learning the technology, and not developing the culture, values and  attitudes. This doesn’t happen over one seminar or team building exercise, but through continuous learning – driven both by the management, and the employees themselves. Everyone should be committed to a learning mindset, creating a supportive environment, and most importantly, making everyone on the team feel that you’re all in it together.

“Learning through and with technology is something we embrace in Grow,” Rudi Ramin, Grow CEO, says. “Our platform encourages that, as well as collaboration and support.”

This sense of learning and growing together can also help you and your team find solid ground: a positive company culture.

It’s easy for change to weaken a company and a team. The stress can lead into conflict, communication breakdowns, passive aggressive behavior, and power plays. This leads to lower productivity, poor morale, higher employee turnover – and generally, makes for a rather depressing workday.

That’s why it’s critical for teams and team leaders to reaffirm positive values and encourage stronger relationships. According to OEB, a global conference on technology-supported learning,   “You must integrate technology appropriately to support the culture, yet not let technology cannibalize the culture. Culture plays a critical role in fostering these methods, and the learning organization has a unique role in helping to bring the culture alive. By delivering learning experiences that encourage people to interact with each other, to understand what the overall business objectives are, and to ensure that everyone understands the value of their contribution, the learning organization can encourage community and foster a deeper connection to company values.”

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