From Industrial to Digital

Redefining leadership for the digital era

This article looks at the origins of our conventional management practices, explains why these fail in the digital era and outlines what great digital leaders do differently to meet the challenge of digital-age problems.

Kuromon Ichiba Market, Ōsaka-shi, Japan by Andy Kelly

Conventional management practice: efficiency from predictability

Many of today’s management practices assume that an effective enterprise is built on efficiency. Managers are keepers and architects of efficiency who control planning, synchronisation and coordination of execution through top-down instruction. If you’re in doubt, the derogatory term HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) has been coined to describe decision making where the most powerful person calls the shots, despite alternative perspectives.

Unpredictable and accelerating: the digital era

Despite the data explosion of recent years, the business world has become significantly less predictable. If you’re an incumbent in a well-established industry, the world is not only accelerating — it’s pulling the rug from underneath your feet. Jeff Immelt, former chairman and CEO of GE, said it perfectly: “If you go to bed tonight as an industrial company, you’re going to wake up tomorrow a software and analytics company.”

Redefining leadership for the digital era

You cannot apply industrial-age practices to digital-age problems, so how does a leader transform the traditional enterprise with a myopic focus on economic efficiency into a highly responsive, digital-first business? They must put digital culture, practices, processes and technologies at the heart of their organisations. And this requires a very different leadership and management paradigm.


Leaders and managers must change from an industrial position of being architects of efficiency to a digital perspective of being catalysts of digital culture, practices, processes and technologies. They will do so by creating learning organisations with generative, performance-oriented cultures that reunite the planning and execution processes.

Blurring the line between traditional & digital businesses. Watching the impact off tech on society.