When you look closely at digitally mature organisations, you will notice that they have certain things in common. Management is taking clear leadership over change work which is based on the possibilities of digitisation. Organisations with a lower degree of maturity often come at their digital transition with a much too traditional mind-set and approach. They engage a small, hand-picked group, which is tasked with drawing up a preliminary report. Much too small a slice of the budget is allocated. Decisions are taken and the project is launched. Because something has to be done, and this seems like a quick fix that will no doubt go well. Great. What’s the next item on the agenda!?

The project is launched amid much fanfare. But the company has barely finished sweeping away the confetti before the project begins knocking into obstacles and set-backs. And what about anchoring? What do we do when departments stand in the way or even go about things in their own, individual manner? We see that there is a need for both central and distributed management. When responsibility is broad and many are on board, your development work will start firing on all cylinders.

Digital development initiatives need to occur as a natural part of your business plans and strategy work

All this really ought to be part of the foundation course for senior management. Digital development initiatives are business development. They need to happen as a part of your ordinary linear work and as a natural part of your business plans and strategy work. That way, the questions which pop up over time will have a natural home and management can take decisions that they are engaged in and familiar with.

The road to change is both rough and bumpy; it is replete with unpredictable challenges and snakes through a shifting reality that is morphing by the minute.

Not for a second am I suggesting that it is easy to manage and drive through change. But management needs to ransack their own digital knowledge and set aside the time needed to catch up if they have fallen behind. Digitisation, automation and robotisation lead to consequences which are often abstract and difficult to get your arms around. Business specialists and new suppliers who speak a whole new language that feels completely incomprehensible to the uninitiated. And then there’s all this about having an agile and cross-functional approach, whatever that means exactly?

Management needs to support and create the right foundation

A foundation which is in constant flux as customers and competitors continuously change their behaviours. A messy reality. The days when the boss was the smartest person in the room and best suited to make decisions are now gone. Today, management needs to focus primarily on providing support and laying a foundation. Creating structure and steering us in the right direction. Making sure that all objectives are loud and clear. That will free up the oxygen you need to breathe life into the creativity and enthusiasm of your employees.

We need to back up a little and reflect on the difference between management and ownership. My view is that senior management needs to take ownership over initiative and strategy. The actual task of management should be delegated intelligently, based on where the deeper knowledge lies. Where operational leadership can create real benefit. So to tie a knot in things – what exactly does it mean to be agile and cross-functional? My answer is:

The most fundamental condition to succeed in levelling up your organisation’s digital capabilities. Make sure you have the following five things in place:

  1. Governance based on leadership and collaboration.
  2. An approach whereby you set things in motion without needing to know everything from the outset. Whereby you dare to test things out and make adjustments without enormous consequences.
  3. Measuring and evaluating results.
  4. Train up and close gaps in your knowledge.
  5. Take ownership and create models to connect responsibility and authority to processes rather than hierarchy and budgetary powers.

Scrap steering groups and ensure that senior management takes ownership over digital maturity. Otherwise there will be a looming risk that projects and initiatives will be halted ahead of time or fail to produce noticeable results.

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