Soft Skills

4 Key Leadership Skills to Drive Your Digital Transformation

Shelley Osborne

Head of Learning & Development at Udemy

Blog

  

Soft Skills

September 24, 2018

Successfully driving a digital transformation at your organization requires rethinking your leadership talent. Innovative digital technologies like chatbots and AI that deliver real-time data insights are rapidly disrupting the way companies develop and sell their products or services. Organizations that stay ahead of this digital revolution will be the ones that capture higher profits and market share. However, you’ll need a new kind of “digital leader” at your organization capable of driving this kind of transformation.

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Why? This shift to a digital-first mindset demands new ways of structuring teams and approaching leadership. In a recent HR Times article, Steven Hatfield, principal and leader, and Anne-Claire Roesch, manager at Deloitte Consulting, point out: “Much of the traditional organizational hierarchy is being reshaped around networks of teams to facilitate faster, more responsive, and more agile ways of working now possible with these new technologies. These new realities have created different expectations for leaders and changed how companies should approach leadership development.”

Unfortunately, many leaders aren’t able to adapt to these changes—often with serious repercussions. A study published in HR Dive found that poor leadership and uncertain direction of the company is the largest driver of employee burnout. The study called out specific companies where more than one-third of employee burnout is attributed to unsatisfactory leadership and lack of direction.

And in some cases, leaders want to evolve, but their companies aren’t providing them the opportunity to do so. In the same HR Times article, Hatfield and Roesch note that “Vice President-level executives without sufficient digital opportunities are 15 times more likely to want to leave within a year than are those with satisfying digital challenges.”

In order to create a better working environment for both leaders and their direct reports, companies must prepare leaders to handle the challenges they’re facing in the new world of work. Here are 4 skills that will help leaders adapt to the digital transformation of the workplace. See how a Udemy for Business subscription can help prepare your leaders for a digital transformation.

4 digital leadership skills for the new world of work

1. Cultivating a growth mindset

In recent years, companies have begun to increasingly value the concept of a “growth mindset.” This term, popularized by psychologist Carol Dweck (and used in contrast to a “fixed mindset”) refers to a person’s ability to “enjoy challenges, strive to learn, and consistently see potential to develop new skills.” Dweck has also conducted research on how companies can embody growth mindsets and discovered that growth mindset supervisors tend to give more positive reviews, rating their direct reports as more innovative, collaborative, and committed to learning and growing. They’re also more likely to say that their direct reports have management potential, paving the way for future leaders with a growth mindset. Courses like Leadership: Growth Mindset for Leadership & Organizations, offered through Udemy for Business, can help leaders cultivate a growth mindset both in themselves and in their teams and organizations.

This openness to learning and discovery is essential in today’s world of work since leaders face many challenges that they’ve likely never encountered before, and new technological developments are changing the very nature of work itself. In an HR Times article, Hatfield and Roesch write, “Our research shows that the most valuable learning happens in actual business situations that require leaders to stretch, and in workplaces that support leadership development objectives.” In a Leading Edge Forum blog post on digital transformation and leadership, Digital and Business Transformation Executive HR Leader Michael Leckie writes, “The leaders of winning digital firms are very happy to set goals they have no idea how to achieve.”

[24]7.Customer, a call center based in India and the Philippines, recently underwent a digital transformation to become [24]7.ai, shifting their focus to customer experience software and AI to automate more routine calls. In order to prepare employees for this change, [24]7.ai created a Digital Leader Profile program to develop a growth mindset and train customer service team leaders in 7 traits that would encourage learning, risk-taking, experimentation, digital fluency, and openness to change. See How L&D Helped a Customer Service Firm Prepare for Digital Transformation.

Tech startup companies like ITX and Appian recognize the future is unexpected and continuous innovation is the key to avoiding disruption. In order to continuously explore new tools to make their products future-compatible, ITX creates a growth mindset in their workplace by having leaders encourage a “next challenge” in every employee’s individual development plan and regularly organize “Challenge Summits” or hackathons for employees to experiment with new ideas. At Appian, they foster a culture of continuous learning or a growth mindset by encouraging employees to serve as both students and teachers. Learn more about how ITX and Appian are creating a growth mindset in their organizations in our webinar: “Creating a Growth Mindset: Preparing for the Future of Work.”

2. Prioritizing communication and influence

The HR Dive study mentioned earlier found that employee burnout is often a result of unclear communication: When employees don’t understand the company’s direction or vision, they’re much more likely to become disengaged. A recent study by EY draws a distinction between IT leaders who are prepared for digital transformation and those who are not, noting that, “Almost 9 in 10 (87%) digital-ready CIOs are especially focused on setting out a vision of how IT can drive business transformation, compared with only 72% of CIOs generally.”

It’s not just about communicating vision: Leaders face other communication challenges as well. The EY study also found that “9 out of 10 digital-ready CIOs say that skills, such as communication and the ability to influence people, are especially important in their role, compared with 79% of CIOs generally.”

For example, company priorities may shift quickly, some companies are moving away from hierarchical structures which reduces the impact of the manager/direct report relationship, and distributed teams mean that it may not even be possible to gather everyone in the same physical location for meetings. This makes it harder for leaders to communicate and influence people in their organization.

Leaders can brush up on their communication and influence skills through Udemy for Business courses like Leadership: How to Influence, Inspire, and Impact as a Leader, Persuasion Masterclass: How to Powerfully Influence Anyone, and The Complete Communication Skills Masterclass for Life.

3. Ability to navigate innovation and change

One of the defining features of the modern working world is that it’s characterized by innovation and change. That’s why it’s essential for leaders to be adept at handling change and be excited to seek it out.

The EY report on digital transformation puts it this way: “Digital-ready CIOs are obsessed with innovation: they are constantly on the look-out for opportunities for IT to cut costs, boost revenues, create efficiencies or facilitate the development of new products and services. They look across the business in order to seek out and grasp as many of these opportunities as possible.” And this doesn’t just apply to IT departments—all leaders face the same challenges and opportunities to embrace change.

Embracing change can mean adopting new technology—71% of digital-ready CIOs strongly agree that they’re responsible for driving the adoption of disruptive technologies like cloud, mobile, and analytics—but it might also refer more broadly to changing established processes, team structure, or expectations. In Leading Edge Forum, Michael Leckie writes, “Will your leaders embrace the potentially radical shift in what your company is and does, and will they thrive in the ambiguity that exists in between? Will they be bold enough to force clarity and put the real problems on the table? Do they have the capabilities and skills to lead in the new culture that you are asking them to build? And, finally: Will they be willing to drive change by starting with the changes they have to make themselves and modeling these for their followers?”

Courses like Managing and Leading Change: Real World Strategies and Tools, Innovation Master Class, and Business Model Innovation: Differentiate & Grow Your Company, offered through Udemy for Business, teach leaders how to constantly innovate and implement change to keep their business on the cutting edge.

4. Effective collaboration with other leaders and across teams

The digital transformation requires leaders to collaborate well with others, and in many cases, it’s not just other managers, but other teams as well: 70% of digitally mature businesses use cross-functional teams to organize their work. Similarly, an EY study found that digital-ready CIOs see the value in collaborating across departments: 59% of digital-ready CIOs are determined to forge close relationships with their CMOs, compared with 37% of CIOs generally.

With more agile networked and distributed teams, collaborative skills are critical in the digital age. New disruptive technologies are rapidly redefining roles and requiring collaboration across teams who haven’t worked together before. For example, the rise of digital marketing technologies means CMOs and CIOs are increasingly collaborating with each other.

Courses offered through Udemy for Business, like Collaboration & Emotional Intelligence can help leaders hone their collaboration skills and learn how to make the most of cross-departmental teams and projects.

The skills that will help leaders shepherd the digital transformation of your business—a growth mindset, communication and influence, the ability to navigate innovation and change, and effective collaboration—will be critical to the success of your digital future.

Shelley Osborne is Head of L&D at Udemy. She has 14 years of experience in the education sector and corporate learning and development. Previously, she was VP of Learning & Development at Farside HR Solutions, specializing in talent leadership, management training, and soft skills development in the startup space in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Calgary where she specialized in gamification and instructional leadership.

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