Top 3 mental pillars for IT leaders facing digital disruption

Once in a while, we need to take a step back and recognise the fact that, in the words of Steve Jobs, everything around us has been built by people no smarter than ourselves.

While this is quite a broad statement with very obvious caveats, it does offer an important shift in perspective. The increased complexity of the world around us has pressed us into making some very difficult decisions. Some of them were made actively and consciously. On the other hand, the ones we very rarely talk about, are the passive and unconscious ones.

A research report from Harvard Business Publishing regarding the state of leadership development in 2018 has revealed that the second most pressing barrier to the success of leadership development is that there’s too much organisational change. The first one being time constraints.

These organisational changes can increase the risk of paralysis. Learning and Development managers become exhausted in keeping up and Business managers too busy to attend development programs.

The same report reveals quite clearly that “transformation is a constant across all major industries.”

In the face of this broad, cross-industry transformation one might feel overwhelmed. It is an even greater challenge taking into consideration our natural tendencies as human beings towards depression and anxiety. Our species hasn’t reached this point through calm, stable and joyous times. We’re built for change, complexity, hardships. Through it all we achieve greatness.

So let’s stop for a moment.

The world was built by people no smarter than you. And we’re all in the same boat.

1. Look at the entire boat

We believe this is the foundational mental pillar when tackling any type of transformation. Looking at the boat, or more commonly expressed as looking at the bigger picture, allows you to be more realistic in your understanding of the world. As business leaders we are caught between the market and the organisation and the latter must adapt to the former in a way that is as effective as possible.

Nurture a global understanding of these two.

Always go back and be open to challenge your assumptions as new information is revealed, especially because both are in a constant change.

In a narrower sense, looking at the digital transformation of businesses, we can see an increasingly bigger disconnect between the expectations in the market and how businesses operate.

As an IT service provider, we support our clients with the technological aspect of their digital transformation. Looking at the bigger picture, though, we recognise that this is just part of the journey.

IDG, in the “State of Digital Business Transformation 2018” has also revealed that while over half of organisations have implemented data/analytics, mobile technology and private cloud while also piloting or researching AI, ML and IoT for use in the next 12 months, only 19% have implemented a workforce strategy.

This means businesses still have a lot of trouble determining roles and responsibilities and adapting their culture to this new digital-first environment.

This brings us to the next mental pillar.

2. Transformation starts within

As an IT leader, you are the first whose responsibility is to prepare the organisation for a digital-first future. But you can’t do that if you’re not in the best position to lead.

In larger organisations, you have to demand from your Learning & Development department to step up and support all levels involved in transformation.

The same IDG report has found that in companies where leadership development is seen as critical to their success are 29 times more likely to have a successful transformation than those where leadership is viewed as not important.

Furthermore, in the Global Leadership Forecast 2018, by DDI, The Conference Board and EY, has revealed that developing “Next Gen” leaders and failure to attract and retain top talent were rated by C-level executives as the top two challenges by 64% and 60%, respectively.

An even more interesting fact from the same report is that HR professionals’ assessment of their organisation’s leadership development program were than the leaders’. Some other revelations are:

Fifty percent do not have well-integrated and strategically aligned leadership development programs or processes. Seventy-eight percent see their leadership career planning/pathing systems as only moderately effective or worse. Fifty-two percent do not know the up-to-date status of leadership talent capability across the organisation.

We strongly recommend that you do not postpone solving these issues. While not everything necessarily applies to your situation, it is the kind of challenge that sooner or later will become very difficult to overcome.

As an alternative, specifically to software teams, a technological partner can help with taking off some of the pressure around acquiring and retaining top talent. For example, we have invested heavily in making sure our talent has all it needs to thrive. Our yearly employee turnover is well below 5% due to the consistent efforts we make in this direction.

Being an IT leader that is aware of the organisational reality and knows where to channel their efforts to get the highest returns, is an extremely important element towards a successful transformation.

3. Strive towards a purpose

A few years back, Daniel Pink published a book called “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us” condensing decades of research about what motivates people. He has grouped these findings under three elements of motivation: Mastery – getting increasingly better at something that matters to you; Autonomy – having the power to direct our own lives; and Purpose – a yearning to do work in the service of something larger than ourselves.

We won’t go too much into details regarding Mastery and Autonomy, as these, though very important, are more related to individuals.

In the same Global Leadership Forecast 2018, we see that companies that get purpose right have better organisational resilience and improved long-term financial performance.

While for those unfamiliar with the power of purpose in organisations the graph above might be surprising. But it is in fact measurable on related dimensions, such as: Engagement, Culture, Agility, Resilience, Vision and Learning environment.

Take engagement for example. In previous research by DDI, 96 percent of leaders said that purpose is important to their job satisfaction. In the current report, they found that having a purpose statement no only has a positive effect on engagement overall, but twice as many leaders get meaning from work and energy levels are 60% higher.

As an IT leader, you’re responsible to communicate clearly to your people and inspire them to do their best work. Furthermore, as we’ve seen until now, when there’s a clear alignment in purpose for the whole leadership body, it results in better financial performance.

Connecting the dots

Looking at these three pillars that we’ve discussed we can see that they are interconnected. Furthermore, they are part of a cycle that needs to be repeated in order to ensure a close fit between market needs and your organisation. It can become tiring to go through this process, especially if you aren’t aware of it and thus won’t be able to take proactive action.

At Qubiz, being a technological partner for companies of various sizes and industries, we’re aware of how we can best support our clients that are in different stages. While we can’t solve challenges beyond our purpose and scope, we can ensure that, when it comes to IT leadership in the projects and partnerships we’re part of, things are well taken care of.

Our colleague Botond Gagyi will be in Germany at the IT-Leiter-Kongress between 28 and 30 of October. He’ll be happy to have a conversation regarding your current challenges and offer solutions based on our experience navigating the IT landscape in the last decades.

Contact him on Xing or LinkedIn if you’d like to schedule a talk. Or directly call him at: +49(0)170 48 53 770

Sources:The State of Leadership Development 2018, Harvard Business Publishing.State of Digital Business Transformation, IDG.Global Leadership Forecast 2018, DDI, The Conference Board, EY.Pink’s Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose Framework, Mind Tools.

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