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iSAQB Software Architecture Gathering – Digital

the holistically networked specialist in digital structural change founder.consultant.professor
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Published on October 17, 2023

Unlocking Digital Transformation: Shifting Mindsets and Embracing Change for Leadership Success

An interview with Klemens Skibicki

In anticipation of Klemens Skibicki's keynote, "Digital Transformation Management Is Also a Mental Transformation of Leadership!", we asked him a number of questions about digital transformation and leadership success in the face of this structural change.

The keynote discusses the transformation of leadership in the context of digital transformation. Could you share a specific example from your experience where leadership's mindset and perspective needed to shift significantly to successfully navigate a digital transformation initiative?

There is no need to name a specific example here, because all successful transformation processes, without exception, succeed only if at least the executives are willing and able to understand what constitutes the structural change from the industrial age to the digitally networked age and that the view and many skills learned in the old framework conditions are not helpful in grasping the new ones. This is not possible without a shift in mindset. It is impossible to understand today's framework with yesterday's view and logic. This does not mean that everything existing is no longer suitable, but it requires the willingness and ability to holistically recognize what the best solutions are from the possibilities of today. This is a great mental challenge precisely because many previous skills and experiences are devalued by the digital transformation and this does not feel good, especially for executives, because they often find themselves in uncharted territory and accordingly feel uncertain or overwhelmed.

In your talk, you mention that technology is only a necessary enabler for digital transformation. Could you elaborate on the other critical factors that contribute to the success of a digital transformation initiative, particularly when it comes to reshaping people's perspectives and mindsets?

It is about thinking at least 3 dimensions together. Technology opens up a new economic logic in many places so that new roles and processes are better suited than the possibilities of the industrial age with its value chains, hierarchies, and broadcast communication of the classic mass media. Digital transformation is therefore not exactly the same as doing things digitally. Therefore, for a holistic transformation, every process and every role must be questioned as to whether it is still the best solution. The third dimension is the human dimension and therefore the most difficult one: Once people have learned something different, they don't automatically do the new thing just because it's there. The "we've always done it this way" is very strong and must be factored in as a hurdle. The most important thing here is to show everyone involved a clear "why" and that always moves between the opportunities and the dangers of ignoring the adaptation. Only afterward, after this attitude has been changed, can the "how" successfully gain momentum.

Overcoming resistance to change is a common challenge in any transformation effort. How do you recommend leaders approach the task of motivating their teams to embrace the questioning of established mindsets and to actively engage in the digital transformation process?

The paths are always a little different and depend on the structures, people, and settings you find. But it is not possible without a clear, uniform understanding of what constitutes digital structural change and why one must adapt to it, nor without a clear commitment and example on the part of the managers. As a leader, I can't say how important digital transformation is and then say, but you guys go ahead and do it, I'm left out in the cold.

Could you share an anecdote from your keynote that illustrates a situation where an organization underwent a successful holistic transformation, including the necessary mental shift of leadership?

A successful holistic transformation process always starts with a necessary mental shift of the leadership in this respect. There is no other way. This shift requires a uniform understanding of what is happening around an organization in terms of digitally networked structural change and on the basis of which economic logic and human behavior this is happening. Only when this "before the bracket" is understood, accepted, and lived can the consequences of the adaptation be thought through and adapted in all areas of the company. The mental transformation in the leaders themselves and those they should take with them must be understood as the most important hurdle through the entire process and as a constant mental adaption. Digital transformation is not a project, but a constantly ongoing process of mental transformation in a dynamic world. One moment it was the conversion of mindsets, roles, and processes to "mobile social first" and the next moment it is about checking all processes and roles for possible productivity advances through artificial intelligence. Only very emergent organizations are able to adapt to this, but it stands and falls with the executives in companies of all sizes.

If you look at the real world, to what extent is lack of mental transformation still a problem? How high do you estimate the percentage of affected organizations?

Difficult to estimate but a very high percentage does not even have a common understanding of the digital change around their organization. And if everyone is talking about something different, how can you develop a unified goal and strategy? Just talking about "digital strategy" or putting "online" and "e-" in front of many functions like "online marketing", you still have a dichotomy in your head as if these were 2 separate areas. In many companies, there are also different departments, people, budgets, and mindsets. But for the people out there, this has long been a single merged world or do you put your smartphone in front of the door of a supermarket and say "Now I am an offline customer"?

Is it a generation problem and are younger leaders (digital natives) better mentally equipped to solve these problems?

Younger generations have grown into this digitally networked world and therefore find it easier if they do not have to question or forget old processes and roles. They often lack the experience and understanding of the framework conditions in the minds of their older colleagues. Experience is also a valuable asset in many industries, but in many digital areas, for example, the experience of the younger employees can be greater than that of the older ones. As a rule, however, it is a matter of allowing the respective strengths to emerge in intergenerational teams and of knowing and respecting the respective weaknesses instead of remaining stuck in a hierarchical understanding of roles. Team performance is then redefined and restructured according to the area of competence.

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