Thriving in the Digital Era with EY

New leadership capabilities are needed to drive a working world that is constantly evolving, technology-centric and yet still in need of diverse human connection. Micah Alpern, Principal for People Advisory Services at Chicago Ideas Partner Ernst & Young, talked to us about organizations that have recognized the importance of modernizing their leadership capabilities and understanding what it takes to thrive in this transformative, digital era. His team sparks inspired, adaptive leaders and teams to build a better working world. Learn more from him below:

As the world becomes increasingly digital and technology-centric, how does this change the role of leaders in an organization?

While some traditional leadership competencies are still important, the demands on leaders in an ever-changing world require a new set of knowledge, skills and abilities. One example of this is moving from a traditional leadership competency of change management to the digital era competency of embracing disruption. Leaders can no longer be reactive and just manage change. They must be proactive and both expect as well as introduce disruption into their organizations. As we shift from traditional to progressive, from industrial to digital, we need to accelerate those who can drive success in global, diverse, technology-rich work environments.


Why is this an important issue?

90% of executives that we recently surveyed believe their businesses are being disrupted or reinvented by digital business models. 70% believe they lack the skills, leadership and/or structure to adapt. That’s staggering, but the good news is that 72% are developing or starting to develop leadership programs to enable leaders to lead in the digital era. These organization recognize the need for transformative leaders with digital era capabilities to shift the organization from “doing digital” to actually “being digital.”


Talk more about that – what do you mean by “doing digital” vs. “being digital?”

Doing digital is where many organizations currently reside. They’ve adopted new technology, enhanced customer experiences using technology, added tools to improve workforce flexibility and mobility, and dedicated resources to identifying potentially disruptive technologies. Introducing the right technologies only allows you to play catch up to disruptors, but it does not change behaviors or mindsets. Being digital is real behavior change. It empowers an organization to identify and target gaps in digital leadership capabilities, reorganize talent structures to reflect the global digital workforce, lead the market in identifying and adopting disruptive technology, leverage digital capabilities as a core competency and competitive differentiator and uses a digital leadership mindset to drive business strategies and structures.


Are you actually seeing differences in the performance of companies that are addressing this new way of leading?

Growing digital era leaders definitely impacts performance. On financial metrics alone, companies with many digital-ready leaders significantly outperform those with few. These pioneers – the organizations with the strongest digital leadership capabilities – are outperforming others by 50% when you look at financial performance, defined by compound financial growth and earnings before interest and taxes. The impact on the employee and customer experience as well as engagement is also significant.


How can all types of leaders get prepared for digital era leadership?

The first thing they can do is get a baseline on where they stand across the digital era capabilities to identify their development needs. The next step is build a multi-faceted development plan. We do this by focusing on digital era leadership capabilities in four areas:

  • Navigator: Embracing Disruption, Resilience, Leading with Purpose
  • Connector: Inspiration, Super Connector, Virtual Leadership
  • Relator: Culturally Connected, Empathy, Balancing Technology and Human
  • Thinker: Mind Clarity, 360 Thinking, Intellectual Innovation

It’s no small feat, but with the right framework, mindset and commitment, we’re seeing pioneering leaders and their employees thrive and truly making a mark in this exciting, transformative digital era.

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