Organisations on a tech-driven journey will need strong leadership at the helm to succeed.
By Marta Chmielowicz
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly accelerated digital transformation in the workplace, forcing people and employers alike to embrace virtual tools in nearly every aspect of life. Whilst this has allowed employees to remain connected in a time of extreme uncertainty, some organisations are struggling to keep pace with the technology breakthroughs.
Many companies have approached their digital transformation efforts in an uncoordinated manner, with different functions failing to work together to build a cohesive strategy across the organisation. Likewise, skills gaps, a lack of a clear vision, and resistance to change have all emerged as obstacles to progress.
But there is a path to success: strong digital leadership. Organisation-wide transformation requires leaders to create a compelling narrative of their company’s digital journey and lead the charge to a new world of work, demonstrating the importance of digital capabilities to the business. According to the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL)’s new report, Digital Leadership Readiness: Lessons from Singapore, digital transformation requires leaders who can:
- set the direction, scanning the environment for digital opportunities and making strategic decisions;
- create alignment, developing the learning environment and infrastructure for rapid execution; and
- scale the commitment, engaging talent across the organisation to embrace change.
With a strong concentration of technology companies that have committed to channeling resources towards disruptive ideas, Singapore is well on its way to becoming one of the digital capitals in Asia -but sustaining the lead will require greater digital leadership maturity. According to the research, Singapore currently lags behind the digital maturity levels of China, Japan, and Australia.
One ongoing challenge is identifying candidates with the right skills and experience for leadership positions, with management-level positions proving the most difficult to fill for 60% of respondents. Whilst commitment towards digital is high, more effort must be made to bridge the digital talent gap.
The study also reveals that leaders in Singapore are relatively risk-adverse and unwilling to experiment and learn from failures. Only about half report moderate use of agile approaches for innovation, with 9% not using any agile methods at all. To accelerate innovation, leaders must create psychological safety to empower their teams; celebrate failures; fast-track ideas using rapid prototyping; and gather iterative feedback.
Leaders in Singapore also need to improve their capacity for scanning the horizon for new technologies so they can proactively leverage disruption to their advantage. Currently, there is a large gap in the ability of Singapore leaders to predict the disruptive impact of new technologies (40%) compared to their ability to implement already identified technologies in their organisations (59%).
Lastly, leaders in Singapore need to implement a planned rather than reactive approach to digital transformation. Whilst more than half of Singapore leaders use digital platforms to collaborate (59%), 47% do not align these efforts to strategic team goals and 60% do not prioritise the organisational capabilities needed to deliver on digital changes.
The basis of digital transformation is the courage and willingness to take risks and learn from experimentation. Leaders who wish to be effective in the coming digital climate need to embrace a culture of growth and experimentation, hire and develop skilled talent, and align technology with the strategic goals of the company. Only then can organisations embark on the digital transformation journey with long-term success.