Lessons for digital leaders of the future

Leaders and companies that put people and culture at the forefront are more successful at managing the complex challenges of transformation.
By: | January 15, 2019


About the Author

Tan Yen Yen is the President of the Asia Pacific arm of Vodafone Global Enterprise.

Businesses today are grappling with change more than ever before: a complex web of political, socio-economic, technology, regulatory and environment factors are now combining to rapidly disrupt the business landscape.

No longer can businesses be sure who their competitors will be or where the next threats and opportunities will come from. This unprecedented level of disruption will polarise businesses between those who succeed by harnessing digital change and those who fail by resisting it.

While technology is a central theme when it comes to conversations around digital disruption, the leaders and companies that put people and culture at the front and centre of transformation are usually the ones who successfully navigate this complex web of challenges.

Here’s my take on what makes digital leaders successful.


Open communication may be the best digital transformation strategy

 Organisational change, as with digital transformation, is hard work and does not always go according to plan.

Notwithstanding, the latest McKinsey Global Survey on the topic found that the factors for  implementing successful change have not changed since 2014. Chief among them is communicating clearly and establishing priorities.

The survey found that when the organisations’ desired outcome for a specific digital initiative was clearly communicated prior to its launch, the business was 3.5 times likelier than others to report a successful transformation.

To this end, the management needs to remain sincere when engaging their team at every step of the way, especially when everyone is unsure of how the process will pan out.

As you would expect from the team, be confident and remain transparent at all times.

Staying close to employees has also provided me a solid grounding from which viable strategies are crafted.  If leaders cannot get the buy in of their employees, and sustain their motivation, they risk stalling their digital initiatives.

Winning the team’s trust and respect is therefore the key to seeing the digital transformation through.


Cultivate curiosity for technology and lifelong learning

Today, Singapore’s workforce is facing a skills shortage. As the talent gap across industries such as financial services and technology grows, leaders will have to develop a fool-proof labour strategy that takes into consideration today’s emerging digital ecosystem.

As leaders, I believe we all have the responsibility to develop genuine interest in technology among our staff.

At Vodafone, it’s my job to maintain a work environment that keeps people happy and productive, while also maintaining a sense of curiosity and enterprise.

One way we have done this is to encourage our staff to shift to new assignments occasionally.

We are also committed to cultivating a continuous learning culture in the organisation across levels and job functions.

Keeping our talent competitive and ready to adapt to change help ensure we can deal with any uncertainties in the future.


Nurture others and grow together

Throughout my years in the tech industry, I’ve always looked up to Steve Au-Yeung, whom I worked for in HP and Oracle. Though he managed me remotely, he always found time to guide me.

He was also always encouraging and constructive in his feedback. In delegating work, he had complete trust in my ability to put in good work.

We gain power and influence by advancing the interest of others. It is almost paradoxical – where we gain power by giving it away.

In this digital age, organisations are shifting away from hierarchical leadership to more horizontal forms of power, where strategy and action can emerge more organically when teams come together to collaborate.

The digital executive is a sophisticated top leadership role with a multitude of responsibilities.

As businesses change size and shape, focusing on digital transformation, executives also need conditioning and improvement.

Digital leaders must wear different personas and master multiple leadership and management roles all the time in order to lead confidently in the dynamic digital era.