Strong digital leadership drives digital transformation

Digital isn’t just about technologies, it’s about changing mindsets. The most well-thought out digital transformation strategy will fail if employees are ill-prepared. Strong leadership and hands-on management can help to break down barriers, crack open silos and improve collaboration and information sharing, reshaping processes and motivating teams. These all make for a positive change experience.

In any leadership scenario, digital or non-digital, it is essential that a leader believes in what they are doing as this reflects on the people they are directing – digital transformation is no exception to this rule.

Belief is only the beginning. As a digital leader you need to be able to engage and motivate your people. Digital tools make the path to digital transformation easier, but they can’t replace the direction of a leader.

Effective leadership in a digital environment requires you to foster a culture of collaboration and innovation and put the organization’s digital transformation strategy into action. To do this you must firstly be prepared to lead from the front and show exactly how it is done. This goes for any project where you are managing people, not just digital transformation.

For example, since I joined Orange in 2013, I have not printed a single page. I don’t even have a printer. This decision will not make a huge impact on our profit or save all the rain forests – but it is a principle which I hope will change mindsets.

Now, in my office you won’t typically find any paper after meetings. My teams see me frown if they bring paper along. They quickly get the message and don’t bring paper again. It has become natural for them not to print, which is another small step towards transformation.

My second key principle is don’t tell me it is impossible. Instead, let me know the amount of time, money and resources necessary to make the change and we can decide on the best way to progress. I don’t like it when people say “we have always done it this way”. This is not the attitude necessary to digitally transform. Having this perspective will not change anything. It won’t change your culture, your behavior or the way you do things. How can you successfully sell transformation to a customer if you have no experience of the journey? The answer is with great difficulty.

Leading by example

In addition to strong leadership, digital transformation needs early adopters. You can’t be a dictator and force people to use digital tools. It has no value. But you can’t expect your people to embrace technological change if you are not putting your vision into practice and using these digital tools either.

I am a self-confessed early adopter of technology and like gadgets. In my leisure time, I enjoy off-road driving. This may sound more like mud than digital, but there is a twist. I download old 17th and 18th century maps and overlay them on Google satellite maps. If the route gets complex, I send up a drone and can quickly see where to go on my iPad.

At work I was one of the first to sign up for our internal collaboration platform Plazza, which I see as the best way of creating a digital brain in my diverse region, which crosses time zones and cultures. It is an invaluable brain-storming tool that I’d eventually like to open up a segment of to our customers. These tools become exponentially more useful, the more people you can get to use them.

As a digital leader you must speak to the older and younger generations alike, utilize their talents, aid their development and explain the value of digital technologies and processes to the organization’s future.

We had one young member of staff who reduced emails by 70 percent in her department by setting up a group on our internal collaboration platform. We asked her to present to management teams so we could drive this idea forward. This reflects an informal investment in change throughout our company.

I always explain what the bigger picture is – why we do and don’t do things – and I find people are much more accepting and supportive.

Don’t forget human contact

My region, as I have highlighted, is vast and culturally diverse, which makes driving transformation difficult. I see change as a natural process, not a hurdle. But I do believe to escalate change people need that human touch. People need to connect on a personal level with other people. With conference calls we all know you do not get people’s undivided attention. I therefore ensure that team members physically visit offices to explain digital transformation and answer any questions, so people start from a solid foundation.

We may be in a digital world, but humans are social beings and we must not forget that face-to-face contact is very powerful. 

Discover more about how digital transformation can help you achieve your business ambition here.

Richard Van Wageningen

Richard van Wageningen is CEO of Orange Business in Russia and CIS and is the Head the IMEAR (Indirect, Middle East, Africa and Russia) region. He has extensive leadership experience in the IT and telecommunications industries – both in services and equipment manufacturing – and holds degrees from Groningen State Polytechnics and the University of North Carolina. Richard has lived in Russia for more than 10 years and speaks fluent Russian.