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How to Build a Leadership Team that’s Comfortable with Digitization

Every senior manager will need to understand digitization, how it applies to their company, and how to take advantage of it

Only 44% of senior managers report that they understand how digitization applies to their company. These numbers are even bleaker for mid-level (34%) and frontline (31%) managers, according to CEB data.

Statistics like these have led CIOs across the world to play a leadership role in preparing the entire company, not just IT, for digital transformation. And this includes equipping other business leaders with the knowledge, skills, and perspective required to make a success of digitization.

One CIO in CEB’s network of IT executives realized early on that digitization success requires a coordinated company-wide approach, and not just changes in IT. He also realized that making these changes will require a leadership team in the future that is absolutely comfortable with the ways of operating to support digitization.

So the CIO established a partnership with the company’s learning and development team to build a set of “Action Learning Modules for Digital” that were embedded in the broader leadership development program. Each of the modules was designed as a challenge to be solved by a cross-functional team of mid-level managers in a development program for those designated as future leaders.

Three Principles

Here are the three design principles the L&D team used to develop digital acumen in their leaders.

  1. Focus on company-wide change: Business leaders tend to focus on new technologies, not the company wide changes required to capture full value from investments in digitization. Instead of just learning about new digital technologies, the chance to solve real-world operating challenges builds a broader understanding of digitization.

    For instance, one of the action learning modules for digital focused on defining revenue models for digital products and services. Another module focused on assessing the competitive advantage of the data captured by the company.

  2. Use applied learning: “Learning by doing” is the most effective way to help people develop skills. Instead of classroom training, the action learning modules provided leaders with immersive experiences that allowed them to actively apply theoretical lessons.

    For instance, in the digital revenue model challenge mentioned above, business and IT leaders were tasked to evaluate the company’s existing business models and recommend how they would have to change as the company transformed its product portfolio.

  3. Use peer involvement to encourage change: The action learning modules for digital bring together teams of five to six mid-level business and IT leaders who continue to work on their challenge for three to four months.

    As a result, they also provide opportunities to collaborate with leaders from different business areas, which reinforces in the broader leadership “bench” (the people waiting to take up leadership roles) how ways of operating need to change to make a success of digitization.


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