Developing people in a time of digital disruption

Developing people in a time of digital disruption

10 min.
March 2019

What unique traits or skills do leaders need to be successful in the digital age? This is a question that companies are increasingly asking themselves as the pace of digital transformation accelerates. And as companies focus more on innovation, many are also contemplating how employee performance development systems need to evolve.

How useful, really, is the traditional year-end performance review in a world of agile development and dynamic goal-setting? More generally, the need to rethink people management is brought into stark relief by the arrival of younger generations in the workforce. Millennials and Generation K (also referred to as Generation Z) bring their own values and skills to the leadership mix, which firms can seek to understand and then leverage for future growth.

Leadership redux

As the world enters the digital era, the practice of leadership is changing. What are the main differences? First, people in companies have traditionally looked to their leader for technical expertise. Today, staff often have deeper subject knowledge than their boss. Similarly, a core part of the leader’s job was to mentor junior colleagues, whereas now “reverse mentoring” – the pairing of senior executives with younger employees who advise them on current trends and technology – is gaining traction. On a more basic level, the leader was the “holder” of power in an organization. The current trend, in contrast, is for leaders to empower others. Organizations have also shifted from having teams collaborating face to face to working in virtual teams.

What about changes in the wider landscape? In the pre-digital age, people could control the level of transparency in their lives. They could determine what they wished to reveal about their life and identity outside of work, but 24/7 accessibility and social networks have since blurred the boundaries. The upshot is that building and leveraging one’s wider networks is increasingly essential to professional success. Lastly, the pace of change has accelerated, and the rise of new digital giants has upended market dynamics. Corporate leaders who previously had a good grasp of who their competitors were are now being blindsided by disruptors.


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