Perhaps you've heard the term "digital immigrant" applied to a person before - it refers to somebody who was born before the widespread use of digital technology and therefore struggles with using it. But companies that have been around for a couple decades or more can fall into this label as well.

According to a recent leadership study done by Deloitte, "When older business models are no longer working, leaders need new capabilities. Yet most companies are digital "immigrants," new to this world and built on older models such as control mechanisms and financial returns. Now, companies are scaling for different goals, such as innovation and moving at high speed. Ninety percent of companies are redesigning their organizations to be more dynamic, team-centric, and connected. These changes require not just new operating models, but a different type of leadership to mobilize and execute these models."

This means that the leadership skills that are needed by companies now look different than those that were needed in the past. Older companies hoping to stay alive and grow now need people who can lead and forge partnerships in a much broader network than they were accustomed to back in the day.

Leaders must know how to build teams - that's no different now than it was 20 years ago. But how they accomplish that goal is. Now, they must focus on keeping people engaged and communicating. They also must reward innovation, employee-driven learning, and continuous improvement. They must lead teams comprised of a mix of employees, freelancers, and even crowds of customers and suppliers. High-impact leadership is now defined by innovation and risk-taking. Anyone holding on to the past way of doing things will be passed by, and quickly.

To convert your digital immigrant company into one that's nimble and capable with technology, you'll need to take notes from the digital natives.

  1. Ask your team members who they'd like to work more closely with but don't feel like they have the access, time, or permission to do so. Frequently, teams will say something like "the communications division" or "human resources.' Many of these core services are silo'd and isolated from the rest of the business, which can lead team members to think of them as inaccessible. If you lead a team on either side of the fence, you can reach across that boundary by building relationships, scheduling cross-team meetings, and identifying projects that would be made better by working together.

  2. Ask your team members what they value about their work -- both individually and as a group. Then do whatever you reasonably can to accommodate those values. Getting to know your team members at a more intimate level like this might seem overwhelming, but it's key to making them feel like a valued and important part of the team. And while it's time-consuming at the start, these conversations get faster and easier the more you get to know each other. Knowing their values also helps save time and money you may be investing in things they don't care about.

  3. Be open to trying new things. Just saying "yes, let's give it a try" speaks volumes of your openness and willingness to take a risk. Know that nothing has to be forever -- especially if it's not working. If your team wants to try working remotely for a week, cancelling meetings for a day of "heads down" work time, or having a daily chat to get the morning started on the right foot -- do it. Ask for feedback, make adjustments, and keep only the things that work. The risk is low and the opportunity to find something that improves work quality, productivity, and employee satisfaction is high.

There's no point in lamenting the past -- and there is a real risk to staying stuck there. Digital immigrants can embrace the technologies and business models that give advantages to newer businesses today. It requires a fresh leadership perspective and a commitment to removing barriers, understanding values, and being open to new things. Although it may seem like a risk to drastically change up the way you've been doing things for so many years, it's a risk you can't afford not to take.

Published on: Sep 27, 2017