Digital Leaders Fly Ahead of Disruption


Technology is our silent partner in the challenging job of keeping the economy moving during COVID-19. This health crisis has taught us that the more we make the digital world our world, the better equipped we will be to manage both business and life in the face of disruption.

Associations who were early adopters of digital strategies made the transition to a remote workplace with minimal distraction. For others, the abrupt technological, administrative and cultural shift has been destabilizing. I have heard about challenges ranging from lack of equipment to the complete inability to accommodate virtual business.

If your organization was, or is, struggling now is the time to explore what must happen so that when you need to pivot (and that day will come again), you are prepared to manage the change. I learned a lot about resilience from the leaders we interviewed in our recent Association 4.0 Books: Positioning for Success in an Era of Disruption and An Entrepreneurial Approach to Risk, Courage and Transformation.

Something that struck a chord with me is that success in the digital marketplace, or any highly disruptive environment, depends more on attitude than expertise. My interest in technology didn’t spring from being a math or science geek, far from it. I was determined to learn everything I could about the digital experience because I saw it as a gateway to accomplishing things that I had never imagined before. Curiosity and eagerness to adopt, adapt and implement the tools science and technology give us characterized the leaders we interviewed. (To learn more about digital leadership watch my recent webinar.)

Most CEOs want their organizations to be digitally literate. Yet, even when you can identify the issues that are holding you hostage to ingrained habits and inadequate tools, breaking those barriers can be difficult. I offer these recommendations from my own experience helping clients to build a culture that uses technology to position their organizations for success.

Eliminate Barriers to a Digital Culture

The CEO leads the charge to eliminate barriers to a digital culture.

Empower Everyone
Let technology out of IT’s ivory tower. The CEO leads the charge to ensure that every employee understands their role in creating a digital impact by tasking:

  • Human resources to explore how to create a successful virtual workforce
  • Education to develop an outstanding online learning platform
  • Marketing to create the optimal digital experience and harness data as a competitive advantage
  • Finance to provide analysis to manage and forecast budgets efficiently

Start Today
Don’t wait for the ideal conditions. If you shoot for the perfect timing or experience, you may never launch. The price of inaction is inability. Adopt the concept of the minimum viable product. Run with the best version you can produce given current resources and be willing to adjust and improve along the way.

Promote Innovation
Yes, digital tools allow you to be efficient. But if you only see technology as a workhorse you may miss the opportunity to use it as a unicorn, or the catalyst for creating a culture that values innovation. Give your employees room to experiment. Reward effort, anticipate failure and encourage iteration.

Associations throughout our community are using technology to develop creative opportunities for member engagement and to advance their missions. These are some recent examples:

The Emergency Nurses Association is inviting members to participate in a virtual Kudo Board to show their appreciation for frontline healthcare professionals.

The National Restaurant Association Education Foundation created an employee relief fund to support workers by partnering with Guy Fieri, the Food Network and other prominent food purveyors. Online donations make this possible.

At .orgCommunity, we’ve launched In Lieu of Lunch using Zoom to create an opportunity for members to share stories and exchange information.

Build the Right Team

Smart leaders are savvy recruiters. To create a thriving digital culture, you’ll need champions to fill these three critical roles.

Champions are needed to create a thriving digital culture.

The strategist/s keep you ahead of the game. Strategists are curious people who want to see around the corner. They explore emerging technologies and imagine how you might incorporate what is cutting-edge into your operations.

The innovator/s say no to tradition for its own sake and yes to invention for continual quality improvement. They seek to maximize your current digital capabilities by looking for opportunities to work better, faster and cheaper and to find new needs to fill.

The driver/s bring others along on the journey. Drivers are the trusted collaborators who can stoke enthusiasm and inspire commitment.

Aim for a Digitized Future

Coronavirus is a hard lesson in the value of a digitized, as opposed to digital, approach to business (see below if you are uncertain about the difference between these terms.)

Digital is the process of converting an analog procedure to a digital form without any different-in-kind changes to the activity itself.

Digitized uses digital technologies to change a business model and provide new revenue and value-producing opportunities.

These are strategies that can help move you toward a digitized future:

Scenario planning is a methodology that allows you to develop short, mid, and long-range strategies with flexibility baked into the design. It can also help gain traction in a crisis. Sharon Rice, .orgSource’s Managing Director, Business Strategy, explains it like this: “Scenario planning fills you with information and an understanding of the possibilities. It gives you some control when the external environment is rapidly changing and people are looking to you for leadership.” (Watch Sharon’s webinar on scenario planning. Read my blog post on the same topic.)

Leverage data to monitor early signs of change. Now more than ever, it’s important to understand how your customers want to communicate. A colleague of mine who was tracking member engagement saw low open rates on important crisis-related information. Realizing members were being bombarded with content, the association quickly switched to a new strategy. They began sending an email every day at 3:00 p.m. with three important messages and saw both open rates and engagement increase. Simple pivots make a difference, but they can’t happen unless you’re watching the data.

Experiment and explore the creativity that surrounds you. Let big and small ideas take you outside your comfort zone. Investigate putting a chatbot on your website or expanding your video capabilities. Empower your employees to innovate and co-create. My daughter’s soccer team has developed a whole roster of online activities to stay engaged until they can be back in the game together.

There is one good thing I can say about COVID-19. It has obliterated the status quo. We are on notice that complacency is a recipe for failure. The digital marketplace demands that you let go of the past, challenge current assumptions and lead with what’s next. It’s not an easy proposition. But when you integrate technology into your leadership style and your culture, you have a powerful silent partner to keep you flying ahead of disruption.

As a leader in digital transformation, .orgSource can put you on the path to a digitized association. Get started today. Click here to schedule a short consultation with me. I am always eager to meet new colleagues and discuss how .orgSource can position your association for success.

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