Leaders in a digital age — Will the chief disruptor please stand up!

Optimising use of digital skills and technologies could power $2 trillion of global economic output by 2020. What does that mean for business leadership? It means they must all — from the CMO to the COO — become business disruptors within their own businesses… with CEO and board-level sponsorship!

To facilitate digitalisation of business, Gartner talks about the need for the CIO to acquire more business skills, while Forrester announces the death of the Digital Tsar, the chief digital officer (CDO), as digital becomes central to every business leaders’ job and the role becomes redundant. I’m with Forrester. And I will go further: should one really bother with the CDO role at all?

Before digitalization, traditional business and IT leadership skills were sufficient to drive revenues and cost efficiencies. As digital emerged, companies applied huge energy to digitising channels (Web, mobile, etc.) and business operations. As we know, this does not a digital business make.

The true benefits of digital can only be realised when outside-in (consumer led) and inside-out (process led) business strategies converge to collaborate in the development of new digital products and services, and the adoption of new business models.

To get there, business leaders will need shake things up, disrupting traditional thinking to develop new digital business models. But the role of Chief Disruptor cannot fall to one person or sector of the business.

In my experience, success is seen where the CEO sponsors change. Business disruption must thus become the responsibility of all C-level leadership, including and especially the CEO — backed by the board.

The role of a disruptor?

  • Formulating digital strategy and incorporating it into business strategy
  • Introducing new digital business opportunities and business models
  • Proposing new ways to interact with customers and to digitalize offerings and channels
  • Identifying opportunities for cost savings, efficiencies and margin improvements through digitalization

Digital is both an opportunity and threat. It needs to be treated as such.

Start by assessing current leadership capabilities, re-defining what leadership is needed, and assigning clear digital responsibilities. Put in place a governance structure to manage and prioritize digital decisions to defend, differentiate or disrupt the business. And design a digital organization to support the transformation.

Don’t be disrupted, be a disruptor. Is your organization disrupting itself on its journey to digitalization? Do you think this disruption needs to be formalized?