Creating a New Leadership Model for the Digital Age



We’re getting ready to host another day of panels and fun with the Lean Digital Speedway at SXSW Interactive. This is our second year, and we thought we’d give you a sneak peek of our upcoming panels.

Don’t miss our panel: A New Leadership Model for the Digital Age

On Monday, March 12th at 3:30 p.m. at the Courtyard Marriott, Rio Grande Room (2nd Floor), you’re invited to hear from the creative minds of Bruno Guicardi, President of North America at CI&T, Swan Sit, Vice President of Global Digital at Revlon, Lizzie Widhelm, SVP Ad Product Strategy at Pandora, and Rob Charter, Group President at Caterpillar Inc. who will explore A New Leadership Model for the Digital Age.

- Learn how large, complex organizations can innovate quickly, efficiently and at scale. 
- Does your company’s culture feel like a burden, a blessing, or perhaps a little bit of both? 
- How can intrapreneurs not only survive but thrive in a Lean Digital organization?

Why is a new leadership model necessary?

Choose a day. It could be today, tomorrow, or a week from now. There isn’t a day that goes by where leaders aren’t confounded about how best to transform their business for the digital age.
There are countless stories about the failure rate of digital transformations. Most estimates seem to hover around the 70% to 80% range. In other words, only 20% to 30% of a company’s transformation efforts will yield meaningful results. But one sure-fire way to put the odds back in your favor is a new leadership model.
To understand the present, let’s briefly consider the past. Years ago, the pace of change was slower, and many successful companies had rigid organizational structures. When problems arose, they analyzed the gaps, planned, divided work, created annual goals, and finally mapped out a strategy for responding to the challenge. And if it took 24 months to get through this process, that was acceptable. This style of management dates to the turn of the 20th Century, when Frederick Winslow Taylor formulated his thinking around the division of labor, which—among other things—called for breaking down jobs into simple tasks.
The reason this model worked, however, is because the pace of change was much slower. When the marketplace is slower and, thus, more predictable, companies can build teams around specific areas of expertise and divide the work accordingly.
But today we’re witnessing continuous change across industries, much of which is external to our companies. To put it gently: Having rigid organizational structures and outdated leadership models in this type of environment is a recipe for disaster. Instead, we need models that are more fluid, whereby teams can quickly organize themselves to respond to change.

Autonomy + Failure resiliency

One way to shed the past and prepare for the future is for leaders to provide teams with more autonomy. This doesn’t mean leaders should hand over the keys, walk away, and wait to see what happens. But if you want to see more of an entrepreneurial spirit in your organization, give more autonomy to the people doing the work. This helps them feel more inspired and empowered.
We need to face facts: Everything is changing fast, and we don’t know where the external change will be coming from six months from now. Because we live in a much more unpredictable and uncertain world, there’s no way to really improve the accuracy of forecasts—they will all be wrong anyway
What’s left? We always advise clients avoid relying on plans or forecasts. Alternatively, channel the wisdom of Thomas Edison, who said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” In other words, we need to experiment as much as possible—but without breaking the bank. Not only is this good advice, it’s also a lot easier than it may seem.
One large consumer packaged goods company, for example, thought about offering its products to consumers by placing lockers in their buildings and having products delivered. This was an MVP (minimum viable product) that would cost a couple million dollars.
We challenged this, and suggested advertising on social networks with a specific demographic in mind. And rather than installing lockers, let’s create just a homepage that would allow people to sign up for the offer. As a first step, we wanted to see what type of traction the new offer would get. For that, we would spend around $20K versus, thus saving millions of dollars in the process.

Creating experiments to fail quickly

How do you create such an environment—where experimentation and failure are o.k.? After all, colossal failures are never good for your career. Is there a way to fail and not be fired?
The solution is to create an environment for small-scale failures. This is one the most important features of the new leadership model. Leaders must create an environment so the team can experiment on their own with ease. Focus on creating behavioral change by changing “how” things are done, changing the work itself. With some consistency and sweat, you’ll see changes in organizational culture.
For example, you might want to begin with changing project reporting and metrics for success. Many companies measure success based on predictability metrics— very specific goals with delineated steps for getting there. Meanwhile, managers will measure progress against these plans. This all assumes that the outside world stays the same while we run an 18-24 month plan. It’s Taylorism 100 years later.
But there’s a better way: Let’s change the goal. Rather than delivering Project X by a specific date, put the business goals at the end and empower teams to figure out what and how to do to get us across the finish line.

Case: Banking mobile app

To illustrate, consider the mobile app for one of the world’s biggest banks, with more than 60 million accounts. The client wanted to increase the adoption of its mobile app. We began by improving the delivery speed and overall functionality.
But the adoption rate didn’t move by much. The team found out that an important demographic wasn’t using the app - i.e., older customers who weren’t concerned with having the latest mobile phones.  After some research,  the team found out that these customers were not tech savvy and were overwhelmed by the numerous options of the app.
Armed with this new insight, we designed a totally new app that featured fewer and clear options and was far less intimidating. Imagine an app designed for children. The new app was built as an experiment and the MVP launched in less than four months and reached 5+ million downloads.
Now imagine that, instead of having a purposeful high-level goal the team had a task-oriented goal (i.e. deliver a new version of the app by date Y). Or if they didn't have the freedom to go out their "perimeter" to create a whole new app. Do you think these results would have been possible?

Join us to learn more. Click here to learn more about our "Creating a New Leadership Model for the Digital Age" session and RSVP for all events here.