Leadership for the Future: Operating in a Technology-Driven World

The future is on our doorsteps. In the first piece of my Leadership for the Future series, I wrote about the rapidly advancing technology landscape. From AI to robotics, in the next five to 10 years, organizations will have nearly everything needed to automate manual tasks and decision making. In 20 years, I predict we’ll be able to apply the full power of automation, AI and analytics to create entirely new business models.

While I already touched on the necessity to rethink the organizational structure to leverage technology-driven competitive advantages, in this post I’d like to spend more time exploring the topic and other changes needed for organizations to successfully operate in a technology-driven world.

Restructure to Stay Competitive

Technology allows us to collect and disseminate information for decision making more quickly than ever before. In the past, data was collected, manually tabulated, and analyzed. It passed through layer after layer of approvals before reaching decision makers and those who ultimately put the data to use. With technologies like self-service analytics, data needs to pass through fewer approvals to enable decision-making.

As a result, decision making hierarchy becomes an obstacle.

Companies that flatten their organizational structure and remove barriers for decision-making will become more agile and therefore more competitive. Zappos has already developed a model for decentralization. And while I am not saying that all organizations should go to their extreme, I do think we need to dismantle certain layers in the organizational structure across the board.

Create a Balanced Culture of Cooperation

In a flatter world the level of cooperation needs to naturally increase and a culture of sharing and collaboration must be fostered. The challenge in developing such a culture is determining how to balance individual contributions with team work.

Recent Harvard Business Review research confirmed that working too closely together can lead to individual burn out if each team member doesn’t contribute equally. Personally, I’ve also found that professionals need individual quiet time to finish work.

Taking those points into consideration, the ideal organizational model for the future will enable faster decision making with less hierarchical oversight and also foster a collaborative work environment that values strong individual contributions.

Holistically Evaluate Technology

Today, businesses take a simplistic approach to technology. They look for magic bullets and quick wins. Instead, organizations need to utilize deep knowledge. “Magic solutions” often turn out to be hype and thus a waste of company resources.

Business leaders must do real due diligence to determine what technology is the best fit for their organization. Most businesses are unique, differentiating on processes and products. So, the organizations and leaders that want to succeed in the future must think about how technology fits uniquely within their organization and how it contributes to company goals.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a few steps that business leaders can take today to help achieve the ideal model we’ve outlined and better position organizations for future success.

  • Create a digital culture: Make technology part of the business model and business processes planning and design. Ask the questions like, “How can technology enhance our business model or even create a new one?” Technology can no longer be an afterthought.
  • Create a culture of analytics: Require everyone in the organization to make fact-based decisions. Ask the people on the shop floor what data they use to make decisions. If they do not, take steps to correct this. Do they need access to data? Are they comfortable with data? Do not turn everyone into a data analyst; just give them the information necessary to make decisions.
  • Create cross discipline learning teams: Select managers who have multidisciplinary background and ask them to look at unrelated businesses and borrow ideas. This will help to encourage cooperation.
  • Create an execution mindset: All of the above are meaningless unless the ideas are applied in real life. Today, we float out a lot of ideas but few get executed the right way.

What are you and your organization doing today to prepare for tomorrow’s technology-driven business world? Please leave your tips and best practices in the comments below and check back soon for my next piece on why the CIO will be the next CEO. 

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