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Want a successful digital transformation? Cultivate these 7 skills.

George Westerman

When it comes to the digital transformation process in organizations, today’s leaders just aren’t measuring up, according to a recent report by Capgemini and George Westerman, Principal Research Scientist with the MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy. In fact, the research found that only 35% say they have the leadership capabilities to succeed at digital transformation, which is a 10% decrease from 2012.

Westerman says it’s no surprise, given the complex nature of many organizations, as well as the difficulty of working across silos in companies. He adds that to be an effective leader, an executive needs to have vision, engagement, and governance skills, and also be adept at building strong IT/business relationships. In addition, they have to deal with legacy issues explains Westerman, who is co-author of Leading Digital: Turning Technology into Business Transformation.

“Great leaders will be able to build [relationships] and have the vision and communicate really well and negotiate the governance processes, and build momentum and keep that momentum going, and have a constant dissatisfaction with the state of things … and an ability to constantly re-envision how processes can be changed.”

Westerman says it’s a leadership challenge rather than a technology one, and that the more difficult part is the transformation end of the equation, as opposed to the digital aspect of it. Other industry experts agree and suggest 7 habits that will make for successful, effective digital leaders:

1. Listen and communicate: As passionate as you can be about an idea, remember to make room to listen to other opinions, as well as other ways of thinking about a project or concept. Good leaders need to communicate the value proposition, know how to negotiate with various stakeholders, and have strong abstract reasoning skills.

2. Simplify, simplify, simplify: Simplify the approach and your assets. Make it a priority to engage the business before you lead with the technology.

3. Hire the innovators: Successful leaders understand they need people who agree with an organization’s digital vision as well as the ability to innovate. It’s important to have employees who put the needs of the company ahead of their own and who are ready to overcome the challenges that thwart digital initiatives. Look for people with intellectual curiosity and those with different viewpoints to encourage diversity of thought.

4. Participate and “get in the trenches”: For a successful digital transformation, people need to be participants, not spectators—and need to be able to work together as a team to discover the answers.

5. Embrace the mistakes: Make sure people understand that failure isn’t a bad thing. In addition, it’s important to fail fast and accept that you won’t have all the answers.

6. Build strong relationships: Westerman says the research found that relationships within IT and the business are key. “Do everything to help business leaders understand how to make their business better and that technology can make it possible; whether through more intimate customer engagements or more flexible and agile processes. Help them understand and envision how they can be better—because the technology is there.”

7. Build for the future: Organizations have to be ready to look ahead and look for better solutions that will give them a competitive edge. They need to be willing to test the unknown and be ready to challenge what they are comfortable with.

Read the complete article here.

For additional information about digital transformation, check out Revitalizing Your Digital Business Model. You might also be interested in Essential IT for Non-IT Executives and the Internet of Things: Business Implications and Opportunities (self-paced online), two courses in which Westerman teaches.

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