Digital transformation involves building complete ecosystems of shared, scalable resources and then connecting them to customers, employees, developers, suppliers, and related businesses. It is a complex undertaking even for well-resourced enterprises.
Senior management can facilitate the process by using distributed leadership to create a shared sense of mission and responsibility, says Kevin Diaz, chief customer officer at Freudenberg IT (FIT). The theory of distributed leadership was originally developed to improve decision-making in education institutions, which often have hierarchical management structures. Its concepts and strategies have since been applied to other types of organizations.
Trust, empowerment, and shared responsibility are basic premises of distributed leadership. As Diaz notes: “You hire the best people. You lead by giving the vision and then empowering them to navigate to the ultimate objectives on their own.”
Creating a vision for success
Diaz says it is important for senior leaders to convey their vision for achieving success. But once these parameters are in place, they should step back from the project’s day-to-day activities and let their team figure out how to carry out their plan of action.
Distributed leadership facilitates this process by encouraging open communication, which allows more team members to participate in creative problem solving, analytical thinking, and proactive decision-making. All these strategies help to keep the project on schedule and within budget even when unexpected challenges occur.
Roger Quinlan, senior vice president of the SAP Global Partner Manage Cloud and Cloud Business Process Outsourcing, says senior management can support teams by allowing them to experiment even when some efforts do not produce desired results.
A degree of risk tolerance is essential since few projects follow the straight-line projections detailed in their strategy documents. Distributed leadership is useful in these situations because it encourages teams to attack issues in different ways. Allowing this flexibility can lead to novel ideas for simplifying workflows, improving efficiency, and generating a faster return on investment.
At the same time, senior management cannot abdicate its oversight responsibility. It must ensure that teams maintain consensus about where they are going and what they are trying to achieve.
Involving stakeholders beyond IT
Individuals with technical skills are critical to this process, but it is also important to recruit end-users from marketing, finance, sales, customer service, and other lines of business. As frontline workers, they can provide insights into issues that may be completely outside the normal workday experiences of more technical team members.
All team members should take an active role in deliberations and receive assignments that include critical milestones and deliverables. Assembling different types of workers and empowering them with decision-making authority can profoundly change how an organization operates.
Along with challenging status-quo thinking, distributed leadership can help to normalize the idea of using creativity to solve problems. Communication among team members and between teams can create a deeper understanding of how work activities and tasks are performed. Such collaborations can also accelerate the digital transformation process by giving more workers “a place at the table” and an investment in the organization’s becoming more efficient and productive.
Leveraging the expertise of trusted advisors
Organizations often partner with third-party experts to fast-track digital transformation, particularly when ramping up newer technologies for mobile, cloud, social, or analytics.
Quinlan says it is important to work with vendors who understand the importance of delivering success as their customers define it. A good vendor will serve as a trusted advisor and not hesitate to initiate difficult conversations if they are critical to project success.
Diaz agrees, advising senior management to also seek out partners who are not afraid to raise sensitive issues when necessary. “What are the conversations we need to have to progress forward?” he says.
Distributed leadership provides a solid framework for encouraging openness to new ideas and a willingness to pursue collective actions. But its less hierarchical approach to project management also helps organizations cultivate stronger workplace cultures and much deeper pools of leadership talent. Such advantages can provide significant competitive advantages in our constantly evolving global economy.
Interested in learning more? Listen to the SAPRadio show, “Navigating Complex IT Teams: Smoothing the Way for Customer Success,” and check @SAPPartnerBuild on Twitter.