For several years, it has become crystal clear that digitization, artificial intelligence, IoT, and machine learning, among other advancing technologies, are disrupting businesses and changing the way the world works.
These technologies are impacting every industry and every company. From household products to financial services to transportation to healthcare, digitization’s impact is broad and deep. If your organization isn’t yet undertaking some change initiative related to digital transformation, don’t blink, because very shortly, they will.
Of the many impacts digital technologies bring to companies, arguably the most disruptive is the speed of change and the accompanying compression of business cycles. Changes that previously occurred over years now take just months and business cycles have accelerated to a breakneck speed.
YouTube and Google offer a clear example. Founded in 2005, YouTube captured 1.8 billion viewers in 2018, just 13 years after its launch. In contrast, NBC, founded in 1926, achieved 7.876 million viewers in 2018. (And NBC is the most-watched terrestrial TV network). Even more incredible, an unprofitable YouTube was purchased by Google less than 2 years after its launch for $1.65 billion.
More incredible still, Google has acquired well over 200 companies since it’s founding in 1998. That’s about 11 per year or nearly one acquisition every month for 20 years! Through acquisitions, they are accelerating their pace of innovation and growth. However, this surely comes at a price—the people that come with these acquisitions will need leadership to successfully transition into Google. Google’s existing leaders–and the leaders that come with these acquisitions–may not be ready to handle the challenges that come with such rapid changes.
The speed of business change drives the speed required to develop leaders. The leadership imperative of the digital age: develop leaders faster.
Business cycle acceleration is not limited to well-funded digital ‘Unicorns’ or high-flying tech disrupters. It impacts all businesses. In 1964, the average age of an S&P 500 company was 33 years; by 2016, that number had dropped to 24 years. And, by 2027, it is projected to drop again to a mere 12 years old. In the digital world, speed is everything.
The digital economy shrinks business cycle time and accelerates speed to market and speed to value. In the past, companies had years to nurture and cultivate leaders. Now, they have months.
Simultaneously, the nature of work and worker expectations/demands are shifting rapidly. The digital age has ushered the growth of gig workers, who may be employed by multiple organizations at any moment in time. It’s not hard to imagine a driver who works for Uber also driving for Lyft and a local Limo company. This worker would have the opportunity to work as many hours as they desired, on a schedule that meets their lifestyle, and be 100% in control of what kind of work they did for how long. The same is true for software developers, nurses, and engineers. There is no occupation that would be exempt from ‘unjobbing’ in the new economy.
Taking these two trends together—accelerated business cycles combined with a gigged-up workforce, the development of leaders who understand how to attract the right workers, communicate a compelling vision, keep workers focused and engaged, and optimize workers’ productivity is critical to any company’s performance. And research from a number of sources backs that up: Top performing companies have top performing leaders across all levels of the enterprise.
How can companies accelerate the development of Leaders? Not by accident. Building the foundation for growth and having leaders who are well integrated with the mission and values of a business happens through deliberate, focused efforts with full Executive support. It must be baked into the core of the organization, and focused on developing the skills and capabilities required to meet the demands of business-at-hyperspeed, which will include:
- Understanding the business and talent markets critical to the enterprise
- Ability to manage ambiguity, fail faster, and make fast, well-considered decisions
- Skills to lead via influence and persuasion, not command-and-control order-giving
- High emotional EQ, empathy, and creativity in solving people problems at the individual level
- Culture of continuous learning and teaching agility—must be able to learn on the fly and make rapid adjustments based on learnings
- High communication skills to articulate a vision and show a clear path toward joint success
- Ability to cultivate individual and team innovation, experimentation, and self-guided work groups in pursuit of the organization’s larger objectives
In the digital world, slow and deliberate will not win the race. Creating great leadership has never been easy, but in an environment of radical business disruption, technology-based innovation, and shifting worker values, building and driving leadership excellence has never been more critical. And, most importantly, it has to happen fast—faster than many organizations have yet to realize. Organizations that recognize and prioritize the development of leaders as a strategic imperative will have a huge advantage in the digital economy.