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The changing face of leadership in a digital world

The pace of digital disruption has left 50 per cent of British businesses and public sector organisations fearful or worried that their organisations will not be able to keep up with what is still to come over the next five years.

Digital technology has already broken down the old, familiar business models but the effect it will have on the future of organisations’ operations as it evolves remains significant and unknown. So, Britain’s business leaders are rightly concerned about keeping up.

Vodafone’s latest Perspectives report, interviewing FTSE100 CEOs about modern leadership, found that today’s CEOs believe in five years’ time there will be no place for senior management who are not confident with technology – making digital literacy a must-have for C-suite executives in today’s digital economy and a necessity if they are going to be ready for tomorrow.

Embrace the change, or get left behind

As the UK’s business decision makers are fearful and concerned about future digital disruption, it is clear that they need a strong leader who can understand and make the most of the opportunities from today’s digital world. As Rod McKie, CEO of Welcome Break, points out: “The excuse that you’re not technology savvy can no longer stand for a modern executive anymore because the world is moving so quickly.”

While executives do not necessarily need to be literate in coding, it is imperative that they understand the role that digital technology plays in a modern organisation, especially if they are to realise the benefits of optimised productivity, efficiency and responsiveness to customers. In fact, nine out of 10 senior decision makers say digital technology is essential to a business’s future success.

Meeting customer expectations before someone else does

Delivering good customer service has become more challenging due to an overwhelming consensus that digital, and a hyper-connected society, has changed customers’ expectations. Business must adapt the way they do things to keep up. Recent Vodafone research revealed that customers expect:

  • An almost immediate response to their enquiries (73 per cent)
  • To be able to reach a company through a variety of different channels (such as telephone, retail store, email, web chat, social media, online forums, face-to-face etc.) to purchase a product/ service (70 per cent) or ask for help (67 per cent)
  • To receive a consistent experience online or offline (53 per cent)

In line with these powerful statistics, according to recent Vodafone and YouGov research 74 per cent of business leaders agreed that delivering customer service can be improved through intelligent use of technology.

Business to business organisations that may not have originally seen these consumer-focused demands as relevant to them are also feeling the pull, increasingly citing digital media as being very important from the perspective of recruiting talent, engaging colleagues and disseminating and sharing information across teams. As a modern day leader it’s critical to understand not only what technology exists, but how to utilise it to satisfy consumers’ and employees’ ever increasing expectations to drive a competitive advantage.

A modern workforce is a collaborative workforce

With the increase in the use of digital tools for working, boundaries are blurring and businesses are becoming more agile. To enable collaborative working, CEOs are turning to their CIOs and CDOs to make use of technology to achieve this.

In the past, the CIO often worked in a silo, however today IT is more widely accepted as an integral part of the business strategy. Rupert Pearce, CEO of Inmarsat explains: “A CIO is someone who should galvanise thinking around technology issues in powerful ways. They are a visible standard bearer; someone who should ask the tough strategic questions.”

By taking a more collaborative approach with all leaders in the business, digital can be used to transform business processes. By reaching out to the wider team, the CEO can unearth processes and areas of the business that could become more efficient and effective through digital technology, such as customer service and workflow management.

Digital is an enabler, not a disrupter

Having acknowledged that digital technology will play a central role in future success, business leaders cannot afford to show fear of, or reluctance to implement it. Instead they must lead by example, embracing technology with a clear view of the potential advantages to be unlocked.

Using technology to meet the rising expectations from the consumer is a must in today’s marketplace. Business leaders need to first understand what customers expect and then make best use of the available technology to meet their customers’ needs.

By embracing technology and using it in an innovative way, business leaders will be better positioned to maintain a competitive advantage by driving innovation, productivity and efficiency throughout the business.

Phil Mottram, Enterprise Director of Vodafone UK (opens in new tab)

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Nomad_Soul

Phil joined Vodafone in June 2014 to assume responsibility for the UK’s Enterprise business. Over the previous 20+ years Phil held executive roles at a number of large, enterprise-focused businesses.