Modern Workplace - Oct 18, 2021

Digital transformation begins at the top – 5 tips on becoming a digital leader.

Leading a team is no mean feat. People are fundamentally different in terms of what motivates them, how they can be supported to unfold their potential and hone their individual strengths, and modern managers also have to be able to lead hybrid, dispersed teams—bringing employees together who are physically separated. This is because modern organisations rely on flexible teams and agile methods in order to meet the demands of the market and their employees.

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Managers have to be able to guide and communicate these changes and that requires digital leaders to drive forward the digital transformation. It’s a difficult task as it’s not just about leading teams in a more complex world of work, but also about showing a high degree of empathy and being able to take a step back and reflect.

What is a digital leader and what are the challenges being faced by modern management? There are five aspects to consider:

1. Hierarchies have had their day.

Modern businesses organise work between project teams, which encourages creativity as new ideas emerge much more quickly in interdisciplinary teams and employees are much more involved in the projects. However, this has an impact on collaboration between leaders and team members.

Digital leaders see themselves as being part of the team, not just giving instructions, but working with their team as equals. They ideate together with their team and include it in the decision-making process, share the workload and delegate responsibilities. Digital leaders are well aware that they are role models, and thus do not see themselves as superior, but rather understand that every person is important and contributes to the team’s success.

This modern style of leadership is breaking down hierarchies and it’s SMEs that have to change the most. They may have fewer hierarchical levels than large enterprises, but these tend to be much more detached from each other. Fundamental changes are essential. Leaders need to re-evaluate their roles and be supported in doing so by their organisation. 

Professional and sensitive change management that includes all managers from the very start is critical as changes have to start with those in charge before being passed on to their teams. To do so, every leader needs to develop their own, authentic leadership style based on openness, and appreciating and trusting the employees. 

2. Independence matters more than ever.

The nine-to-five grind just doesn’t cut the mustard for most people any more. Younger generations in particular are motivated by knowing that their work has meaning, which is why it’s important for employees to know exactly how they can contribute to pre-determined goals and many team members would like to have their own area of responsibility. When leading teams, it’s important to know every members’ strengths and development potential.

On top of this, younger members of staff have totally different expectations and this generation is having quite an impact on corporate structures. Younger employees don’t just expect hybrid working, but also flexible ways of working and career opportunities and leaders are increasingly confronted with issues such as work-life balance or sabbaticals

This means regular communication is a must. Those leading teams have to consider each members’ interests and development potential, problems and fears, but they also have to clearly communicate their own expectations and objectives. The team should feel appreciated and trusted and their leader has to be there when needed. Constantly looking over the shoulders of your employees, on the other hand, is a thing of the past. 

3. Bolster a feeling of solidarity.

Building team spirit is important even if some of your team are working in the office while the rest are at home. For leaders, that means coming up with ways of bringing everyone together despite them being dispersed. Regular opportunities to communicate and share are, therefore, just as important as informal get-togethers. Making sure that no-one is forgotten about should be a top priority in a hybrid world of work, as should regular dialogue between team members and leaders and amongst the team itself.

Modern tools such as Microsoft Teams support collaboration in meetings and beyond, as the team can make use of the chat feature or work on documents together. It is, however, important not only to provide modern tools, but also to teach the team how to use them effectively.

4. Create a feedback culture and listen!

Leaders have to create a culture of feedback that recognises individual contribution and encourages an open dialogue on ways to become better.. Mistakes should be discussed openly so that lessons are learned and staff feel they are able to further develop their ideas.

A culture such as this not only provides fertile ground for new ideas, but also helps to optimise existing projects, but leaders have to take the time, listen and be a role model. A real transformation can only happen when leaders are on board with it and become the epitome of change.

What’s more, leaders have to understand that communication is key, but that they also have to listen to what their team is telling them. Conversations should never be a one way street or have a predetermined outcome. Instead, modern leaders have to make their decision-making processes transparent and base them on dialogue with the team, unafraid of asking for an opinion or putting their faith in their team members’ expertise.

5. Break down silos and share knowledge.

In-house knowledge is worth its weight in gold. Businesses have to ensure that information flows—within and between teams—but to do so, leaders have to lay the foundations for a culture of collaboration in order to break down silos between departments and foster communication. If that happens, the opportunities are endless. For one, ideas can be advanced more quickly when other team’s expertise is gathered. Plus, doing so often keeps teams in sync and thus saves time and money.

Tools such as Microsoft Teams can facilitate this by ensuring that information can freely flow between teams, even in a hybrid working environment, but also in this case, an initial cultural shift is essential. Say goodbye to hierarchical silo thinking and hello to networking and collaboration in small project teams across departments.

Transforming the leadership culture = Benefits for the business.

When a company has successfully transformed its way of thinking, it can reap a multitude of benefits. Most notably is that efficiency and productivity can be given a boost, as when employees accept and adapt to using their new tools, they optimise their performance. Moreover, a great weight is lifted off leaders’ shoulders. When employees are consistently encouraged and empowered, they will take on more responsibility for a greater number of tasks. By leveraging a modern leadership culture, companies can win over young talent and retain satisfied employees ensuring that they stand out in the crowded market as an attractive employer. Last but not least, a modern culture of leadership promotes innovative thinking as employees are able to come up with new ideas and work to continually develop them. If this is the case, businesses can stay one step ahead of the competition and quickly bring new products and solutions on to the market.

What are the first steps on the toad to a modern leadership culture?

It’s not easy for most organisations to bring about sustainable changes without some support. Bechtle is on hand to offer support to businesses on their path to a modern leadership culture—a crucial component of the digital transformation. We work with you to first determine your objectives because only when you know where you want to go can a course be set. Having the perfect strategy is fundamental to the success of change management and user adoption, and so there are three questions to be considered. Which people and resources are needed? What human, cultural and technical factors have to be taken into account? Why are you taking this road in the first place?

Only once we have the answers to these questions can we start the process of change, with individual areas of action defined and recommendations for solutions planned with your leaders and teams. At all times, the users are the focus. We take you through the change process step-by-step and offer our support even once your objectives have been achieved, because only a holistic approach can sow the seeds of success.

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Published on Oct 18, 2021.