05 Aug 2015 18:06 IST

Strategies for emerging leaders to adapt to the digital world

Things may get challenging if managements don’t understand the domain’s widespread impact

The digital paradigm has changed the rules of business. The best practices of the industrial economy no longer apply in the digital age. What was once safe ground is no longer so, and organisations need to adapt. Digital has become complex, with websites, intranets, social media, mobile and more. Redesigning your site every few years is not going to allow you to compete in the digital economy. Instead, organisations need to make fundamental changes. Digital can no longer be seen as a bolt on to existing offerings. It needs to instead permeate every aspect of your organisation affecting your people, processes and strategy.

Encouraging well established organisations to change the way they work is a challenge. Culture, business silos and standard operating procedures all get in the way. Things are even more challenging when managements don’t understand the impact of digital.

Unfortunately Indian universities and colleges that are turning out five million new graduates each year are not fully geared up to impart these digital-driven skills for a comprehensive adoption of digital techniques.

This presents a great opportunity for young leaders to adapt to and lead the digital transformation. The onus is on them to prepare for the digital mindset, to lead and catalyse the digital transformation.

The key industry trends are:

1. Innovation will be decentralised

Innovation will break down the traditional ring-fencing of organisations. Employees will innovate both inside and outside the boundaries of their organisations – as employees internally and as freelancers outside.

2. Hierarchies will be flattened

-Organisation structures will become flatter

-Small organisations with strong ideas and platforms will take on larger enterprises

-Technology and web-based giants will move into adjacent business areas signalling a new wave of business disruption and creation of platform ecosystems

3. Humans will connect with machines seamlessly in the ‘Everyone-2-Everyone’ ecosystem

-Teaming with machines (augmentation) will become real. Open, standards based protocols will drive mobile development.

-The Internet of Things will get personal. Sensors will help people get fitter, control their car, turn lights on and off, among many others.

-Security of M2M connections will have real life implications – issues such as vehicle hacking, healthcare device hacking, smart home hacking will raise large concerns.

So what do you need to do to adapt to the opportunities available in the digital economy?

These trends also point to new opportunities that young leaders need to adapt and position themselves for.

The following four key strategies will help them adapt their careers to the digital world:

1. Get a broader perspective of digital business models

There will always be jobs for people who are capable of higher level abstraction and understanding the new revenue models and technologies. Irrespective of the formal education subjects, familiarise yourself with the latest businesses models and develop an understanding of how businesses are changing. In most cases, digital technologies are at the heart of and enabling these new business models.

2. Build partnerships with new technology and start-up businesses

Internet of Things (IoT) and augmentation (machine to person interactions) will form the core of new business models. Lead and catalyse to build partnerships with these new digital businesses to integrate and adapt new digital business models permeating every aspect of the organisation affecting your people, processes and strategy. Things may get challenging if managements don’t understand the widespread impact of digital.

3. Pursue domain expertise, contribute to crowd sourcing ideas

The digital economy is seeking to think outside the box: perceive where today’s businesses and society leave gaps and envision ways to address them profitably. Crowdsourcing of innovation is increasingly an accepted means of generating ideas both by businesses and governments. Contribute and participate in crowdsourcing initiatives by leveraging your formal education and developing a domain experience that complements your formal education.

4. Develop your strategic IQ

Without a goal in life, it is tough to achieve much. Mindless wandering rarely delivers great results. As the character of the Cheshire cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland said, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”.

While pursuing any of the above strategies, develop a simple and measureable vision where you want to be in your career in 10 years’ time. Articulate the portfolio of experiences you want to get on that career roadmap. It may be a mix of domain, functional, start-up, corporate roles. However, articulating this is no mean task, but try. Alumni are helpful resources, tap into them. It is amazing how short-term tactical career issues (layoffs, bosses and organisation conflicts) and personal developments (marriage, kids, ageing parents) crowd out strategic career thinking. So get the vision on paper, before you run into these tactical issues and refer back to it regularly.

Finally, in a fast changing world there is no option than to learn and adapt quickly. If your career vision needs to be updated, do that, but stay the course.

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