The Art of Digital Disruption

folder_openBoard, Change, Digitalization, Leadership, Lifelong learning, Mentoring
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The European Women on Boards launched a cross-border Digital Strategy Mentoring Program in Autumn 2020. The purpose of the program is to put together a substantial experienced mentor (male or female) in the digital area and a senior female business leader to discuss the possibilities of digitalization in business. The focus of the program is on information sharing and inspiration building in the areas of business digitalization (transforming to industry 4.0), leveraging the big data and understanding the opportunities and threats of digital aspects for today’s organizations. The program includes a kick-off session, a minimum of 6 on-line sessions in mentoring pairs and close-out event.

Mentor: Saskia Van Uffelen, Corporate Vice President Benelux Inetum, Digital Champion Mentee: Aija Bärlund, Founding Partner, Deve Partners, Boardman Partner

Here is how Saskia summed up her message to leaders and organizations: 

A digital transformation is not only about technology, nor about acquiring ICT-skills. It is about changing the company culture.

The whole company needs to contribute to this culture change. We do need AI-experts and coders, but we also need new financial models that will enable the digital disruption. We need to dare to reshuffle funding and allocate money in a different way. We also need a new approach to sales, a new approach to people management, and we need people with the right values and attitude in order to make all of this happen.

Focus on the technical side of skills is not enough. Keeping an eye out for digital inclusion is of tremendous importance, as to make sure that no one is left behind. 

Invest in education and lifelong learning to enable digital disruption

Before the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemia we heard so many reasons why hybrid education is impossible: schools weren’t ready, teachers weren’t ready, buildings weren’t adapted, parents or children didn’t want to, etc. The crisis situation forced us to change. Most of the denial arguments were not relevant anymore. 

Suddenly the only option for teaching and learning was hybrid education. The main hurdle was the fact that too many youngsters did not have access to the necessary IT equipment at home. “Digital For Youth” was the solution we came up with in Belgium, to tackle this problem. The organization recovered laptops from the industry and distributed them to youngsters in need.

Our minds need to be directed towards finding solutions; making this digital transition happen and making sure that everyone is included. Every time we face an obstacle, we need to tackle it heads on. 

Digital inclusion is not only about youngsters in school. Training our adults to find their place in this new digital world is of equal importance. 

Instead of funding a massive layoff – which is more acceptable by the financial markets than an investment to make an organization capable of changing and becoming healthy again – we need to use the funds to retrain our people. This requires a long-term vision going further than the next quarter. 

I would advise HR to start hiring for potential, instead of for diplomas. I have done it for years now, and it has always proved me right. 

Key players in the discussion on digital skills development should also be, maybe unexpectedly, the financial analysts. We should review the way we appreciate the financial performance of our organizations. As soon as we change the way we measure success, you will see a complete change of behavior regarding the investments in education and lifelong learning for employees. 

 If we are really serious about sustainability goals, we need to be very serious about digital inclusion. This is the only way to go forward. We don’t have a choice.

This is what Aija learned

In order to safeguard the success of a digital transformation:

  1. Make sure that the company culture is positive towards change.
  2. Analyze the company carefully. Understand where you are today. Do not ask your management team. They will tell you what they think you want to hear anyways.
  3. Flag where we want to be in the year 2050. Make it a dream to the organization.
  4. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Inspire your people. Make sure everyone understands where we are heading.
  5. Make the action plan, visualize how to get there. Get out of silos. The change will take minimum 3 – 5 years.
  6. Follow the performance carefully. Reward. Give glory to the Champions. Tell success stories to inspire the others.
  7. Be patient. 

If you fail, it’s ok. Failure is an essential part of success.

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