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How Technology can Transform Leadership for the Good of Employees

Jun 24, 2020 | Digitalization Trends, Organization Effectiveness

Right now, available technology can automate much of what we call  management, giving leaders more time to lead. This is vital. As  digitization disrupts at an ever-increasing rate, leaders are challenged  to accurately anticipate shifts in the business environment, and to  make their organizations markedly more agile. Leaders need to be  liberated from routine work to focus more on strategic transformation.

A digital race to the bottom

Organizations today face a technology maelstrom. The Internet of  Things, robotic process automation, 3D printing, blockchain, augmented  reality and virtual reality all promise to do things faster, cheaper and  – thanks to AI – more autonomously.

Executives have little option but to adopt these technologies as  quickly as possible. Every marketplace is a war zone, rife with  technology-enabled attempts to disintermediate, commoditise and bypass.  Meanwhile customers, now faced with proliferating options, expect their  needs met swiftly, conveniently and for the lowest possible price. If  one company does not meet their expectations, they’ll shift their  business to one that will.

Technology has always been essential to creating greater customer  value at lower cost. On the surface, this seems an infallible formula  for profitable growth, but in practice companies often find it hard to  hold on to the gains from their digital advances. Most of the benefits  must be passed on to customers, as is required to remain competitive.  Further, many markets are constrained and so cannot reward technology  investments with commensurate revenue growth. These harsh realities can  lure companies into a digital race to the bottom. 

There is also widespread social concern about the future of work as  technology replaces people and jobs are lost. It actually seems more  likely that the nature of work will change, as technology will amplify  the human potential to yield unprecedented levels of efficiency and  effectiveness. 

The challenge for leadership is to deploy new technologies in ways  that not only yield fresh efficiencies, but also to amplify human  creativity, ingenuity and judgment. Augmenting leadership with  technology will greatly increase leaders’ ability to meet that  challenge, and so achieve real future prosperity. 

Agile teams and minimum viable products are not good enough 

Overwhelmed by the magnitude of becoming a “digital organization”,  leaders often default to creating autonomous teams, then try to create  space for these teams to innovate effectively.

However, this approach can limit both immediate impact and  long-term success in a digitized world. With much of the organization  unchanged, it can be extremely difficult to deploy unfamiliar solutions  at meaningful scale. Much of the human talent of the organization  remains un-engaged, which means their growth and adaptation potential  stay largely untapped. 

These shortcomings may be compounded by the tendency to apply  advanced analytics, AI and other technologies where they are easiest to  deploy, with a goal of quickly delivering minimum viable products. Over  time this approach can prove a trap, as it is much easier to find a few  things new technologies can do than it is to pinpoint how to derive  lasting value from them. 

Using technology to amplify human insight and talent 

Depending on the task at hand, new technologies such as analytics  and AI can be immensely powerful – or outright useless. Navigating the  uncharted waters of industries in turmoil requires imagination, judgment  and a sense of context of which machines are incapable. Humans, in  contrast, often excel at this kind of thinking. Unfortunately, most have  neither the information from which to draw insights, nor the capacity  to advance their insights into action. 

 The solution is to use new technologies to augment rather than  replace human activity. The goal is not merely to apply new  technologies, but to collectively align the most resourceful people to  take on the organization’s most daunting challenges and chase the most  compelling business opportunities. 

This requires a substantial re-framing of leadership, away from  leadership teams at the top of pyramids, dishing out instructions, and  toward a form of leadership-on-demand or leadership-as-a-service.  Technology empowers integrated leadership systems that blend human  qualities throughout the organization into a single resource, focused on  what matters most.

Three principles for augmenting leadership 

We suggest three principles to guide the application of new  technologies to boost organizational performance and augment leadership.

  1. Human Centric

Human centricity means using technology to boost human qualities of  ingenuity, judgment, contextualization, creativity and social  interaction. In other words, putting human beings in the center of your  approach and viewing technology as an enabler of rather than a  replacement for human achievement.

Technology should make people’s lives easier (although this is  often far from the norm), as well as more productive and more  fulfilling. This begins with making user interfaces and experiences  inviting and hurdle-free.

For organizations to meet the challenges ahead, people require more  than just the information necessary for their own tasks: they need to  understand their impact on the whole, so they can coordinate their  efforts and make continuous adjustments. As such, companies should  prioritize technologies that connect people and leverage their  collective expertise. This, in turn, gives people evidence that they are  making a difference, revitalizes their spirits and greatly enhances  organizational cohesion.

  1. Full Circle

Strategy without action is just fantasy. To fulfill strategy, people  must be able to effectively work together, and their experiences must  be captured to create a source of shared learning that improves future  efforts.

Technologies can promote shared understanding and alignment around  strategic goals. However, technology should not be a policeman.  Leadership must resist the temptation to use technology for corporate  control or unnecessary compliance, as this will jeopardize efforts to  engage people in driving towards objectives. Rather, technology should  serve as a coach, helping people to explore their potential as they  pursue goals set by the organization’s integrated leadership. 

Collaborative and social enterprise tools, particularly task-based  systems, enable teams to work across organizational boundaries,  providing information, guidance and expertise to support effective  outcomes. Such systems enable leadership to connect and align up, down  and across the organization, and to frame missions the organization can  pursue. 

Such systems also allow real-time data capture of what is being  contributed by whom, and about what actually works and what does not.  This provides a new source of leadership guidance and shapes immediately  applicable coaching for everyone. Feedback can be tightened up through  analytics and AI, while insights can be enhanced with external data  (particularly customer sentiment) and internal “ambient” data (such as  the organization’s email and messaging traffic).

  1. Followership

Leadership is ultimately defined by its ability to create  followership. As leadership becomes more distributed, it morphs from the  idea of a wise group at the top guiding willing minions, to a broad  group of leaders in a collective enterprise. This requires people to be  truly engaged with the tasks at hand, and to have a greater collective  role in defining the organization’s future. 

Behavioral economists such as Dan Pink  have shown that motivation for challenging cognitive work is not driven  by monetary rewards so much as by a sense of purpose, personal growth  and autonomy. Technology needs to amplify both the understanding of  mission and the feeling that people can have a personal impact on  outcomes.

Augmented leadership hits all these buttons. Task-based systems  allow individuals to contribute and be recognized by their peers.  Guidance and coaching drawn from cumulative captured data and relevant  external sources provides individuals unprecedented means to grow. 

It is time to move beyond the struggle merely to apply the latest  technologies. Safeguarding and promoting an organization’s future begins  with understanding what machines do well, then using those functions to  enhance human strengths and create new organizational capabilities.

 

 

 

 

Original Article by World Economic Forum/ Johan  Aurik, Managing Partner and Chairman of the Board/ A.T. Kearney Jonathan  Anscombe, Partner, A.T. Kearney /Gillis  Jonk, Business Development, A.T. Kearney / 2018 

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