Are Asia-Pacific leaders still lagging in digital readiness?

The lack of strong leadership in driving and supporting change is truly staggering, two new studies have found.

It seems business leaders and owners across Asia-Pacific are not ready to take their organisations forward.

Two new studies, covering Singapore, Australia, China, Malaysia, India, Japan, and Hong Kong, among other territories, found that leaders in these countries are far from being “digital-ready”.

The first research, from consulting firm Korn Ferry, in fact, revealed that this lack of preparedness could mean leaders will risk derailing digital sustainability initiatives by perpetuating legacy ways of working.

Much of the region, the same study found, is struggling with the scale of change required and looking for a way through the complexity.

There are, however, a few bright stars, which are namely Australia and India. These two countries fared relatively well against the profile and definition of a great digital leader.

The Singapore story

Countries like Singapore might be at the forefront of digital transformation, with its efforts towards a ‘Smart Nation’, are well underway at the enterprise and government level.

However, comparison of Singapore leaders against the great digital leader archetype shows significant gaps and the need for leaders in the country to make substantial changes to the way they lead.

Singaporean leaders have a strong entrepreneurial spirit, shown by a high independence driver. This spirit is a strong motivator for leaders. Finding ways to embrace it more frequently in more situations will help grow their capacity for working through and making decisions in uncertain conditions, as well as fostering breakthrough solutions.

However, they also prefer to operate in a very structured environment that is defined by rules and regulations. This will limit their ability to drive innovative and new ideas. The analysis also shows significant gaps in the traits relating to curiosity, confidence and risk-taking as well as discomfort with ambiguity.

Failure to lead by example

A second study from training and development group Cegos Asia-Pacific, also produced similar results.

According to its poll of 2,000 business and HR professionals, a staggering 59% of respondents thought senior leaders did little to promote a culture of innovation across their organisations and lead by example.

While parts of the region showed strong leadership and imagination in preparing for the future of work, the report highlights other concerns. For example:

  • 51% of respondents felt their organisation offered very little or no flexibility in when or where they work – a worrying result when top-performing companies across the globe are using technology to enable flexible working

  • 61% thought that their companies poorly organised remote collaboration and communication • Malaysia and Thailand performed poorly across most areas of the survey, although there are signs in both countries that leaders are ready to take action and move with the times

  • Out of a list of several obstacles to innovation and transformational progres that companies face, the top three – management commitment, clarity of direction and company culture / climate –are the main responsibility of senior management

What now?

“In a world where technology and lean start-ups are charging ahead with new ways of working, leaders and CEOs across the region should be alarmed by these findings,” says Jeremy Blain, regional MD for Cegos Asia Pacific.

“Our understanding is that too many leaders at the top of the tree are stuck in an old-fashioned mindset. This encourages them to play safe, when they should be energising their teams and allowing them to take risks.”

To make the transition for companies a smooth one, Blain says leaders and managers “must do more embrace technological advances and inspire a culture of innovation, a change mindset, and new ways of working”.

“Otherwise, they risk falling behind their competitors,” he cautions.

Graham Poston, Senior Client Partner, Korn Ferry Singapore, believes the key to unlocking the potential of businesses lies in the willingness of leaders to show courage.

“The courage to think bigger, to play to win (rather than not to lose) – experimenting with ideas where success is not guaranteed and to trust and empower their teams,” he adds.

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