Some weeks ago, there was a humorous question running in a social media platform about digital transformation! Someone asked “who led the digital transformation of your company? The CEO? The CIO? Or Covid-19?!”

In fact, the way we buy, what we buy, how and where we work, and how we interact with others has been upended by world events in 2020. Almost overnight everything was online. But is this digital transformation? According to Gartner, “Digital Business Transformation is the process of exploiting digital technologies and supporting capabilities to create a robust new digital business model”.

Certainly, Covid-19 has sped up Digital Business Transformation! The pandemic has motivated leaders to accelerate digital business initiatives. Research show that over 70% of senior leaders recognize digital technology as vital to revenue, product development and customer engagement. On other hand, research also show that consumers are shopping mindfully, with demand for local, sustainable and value brands rising. The increase in digital and omnichannel adoption are compelling exponential realities.

Although many organizations are making their way, the large majority are not prepared. I'm not talking about investments in technologies that are becoming mainstream, like IA, Deep Learning, Blockchain, AR, VR, 3D Printing and so many others, or mitigating impacts on current workforce, or even what is happening with big data to allegedly personalize the customer experience - and the ethical or privacy derivatives that these domains raise. 

Organizations must be well-prepared in other completely different sets of critical dimensions, perhaps more difficult to address, helping their leaders rewiring themselves for a totally new way of leading, by linking disruptive technology knowledge (or at least the clear notion that it can address superior business opportunities), with a broader and holistic management perspective that explores the values and purposeful actions in an innovative way. My take is that leaders who want to surf the Digital Business Transformation and have a direct impact on our world and society must act on 4 basic dimensions:

      1) The leader as a Technologist, that is, the one who accelerates the possibilities with technology, recognizing that “once a technology becomes digitized, it becomes exponential” and when it happens, the impact results are measured in “X time more” not a percentage!;

     2) The leader as a Futurist, as he/she imagines bold, ambitious ideas, establishes the vision, relates trends patterns with purpose-driven business and recognizes that technology, by impacting millions of people and turning the impossible into the possible (as if it were science fiction), if used with a “Yes, and…” and not with a “Yes, but…” leadership mentality, can multiply impact through collaboration, partnership, authenticity and resilience;

      3) The leader as an Innovator, bearing in mind that “science fiction is becoming science fact” (from what I mentioned above), the innovative leader must think of purpose & sustainability first and then the technology that supports it (working back towards the technology). In this perspective, observing and questioning openly, reformulating opportunities, visualizing possibilities, learning iteratively, and promoting a radical spirit of openness are key leadership behaviors.

    4) The leader as a Mindfulness humanitarian, catalyzing the impact of change on people, promoting diversity of thought and solutions, connecting knowledge networks inside and outside the industry to obtain structurally different results and more sustainable effects.

Leaders guiding a purpose-driven business addressing a Digital Transformation must have a personal-purpose and a deep self-awareness, because leadership is all about people, working with people to people! A mindfulness leader knows for sure that the way he/she poses the problem influences the response and can condition it. Because disruption does not come from the expected (it comes from the unexpected) a humanitarian leader must encourage diversity of experiences, skills and mindsets to focus on a correct interpretation of problems to solve, seeing them from several different angles and investing as much time as necessary to find comprehensive, innovative and sustainable solutions.

If the purpose of a business is the North Star which should guide the business, its strategy and inspiration for those inside and outside the organization, then there is a major opportunity for all leaders to expand their responsibilities, positioning themselves for pursuing Digital Business Transformation successfully, and play a critical role by executing also a purposeful and deep-sustainable transformation! 

As Bain & Company shows in “Sustainability Is the Next Digital” report, an increasing pressure from multiple stakeholders and new technologies are enabling and addressing different solution approaches, creating the need for sustainable transformations. When a leader (or Organization) focuses on making meaningful change in the world, it inspires action to create a more integrated future, with greater value generation, more abundant in the outputs, and genuine happiness through an intrinsic motivation in managing those 4 dimensions. 

So, it was not Covid-19 who led the digital transformation. It was the leaders and organizations that have been preparing and anticipating the future now!

Have a great and impactful week!

Nuno Neto
Center for Responsible Business and Leadership

This article refers to edition #74 of the "Have a Great and Impactful Week" Newsletter.
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