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Enter digital leaders: managing attitudes, not technology

By knut erlend vik, pa financial services expert

Financial services are undergoing a massive digital shift. Consumer behaviour is changing and there is a demand for digital, user-friendly solutions with 24/7 availability. 

Using technology as the key enabler, disruptive entrants are covering classical banking and insurance needs in new ways. Meanwhile, traditional players constantly fight to stay competitive through new product offerings, digitisation of the core, and changed ways  of working.

To say that today’s world is characterised by VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) is somewhat of an understatement, but what are these massive disrupters and what kind of leader is needed to successfully navigate organisations through the changes? There are many factors, but two immense, interdependent trends are people and technology.

People – fluid and hidden

Since 2008, economic and resulting political decisions have greatly impact the lives of people across Europe. Retirement is fast becoming an increasing non-option, and younger folk are being locked out of both education and work, helping to create a ‘hidden’ generation. Furthermore, the decline in full time work is negatively impacting especially men; however, the rise of flexible working, or ‘gigging’, is enabling a more fluid work arrangement, which is seeing more women in the workplace. Finally, but no less importantly, many countries are attempting to limit immigration, which will impact the access to and diversity of  workforce skills.

Technology – automating and augmenting

Once upon a time, intelligent, wearable and social technologies existed only in the realms of science fiction. Today, they are fast entering our workforces and transforming how we live. 54% jobs in the EU are predicted to be at risk of automation, while the meteoric rise of big data and wearables – along with AI’s extraordinary ability to analyse data – is opening the door to a new era of quantified, augmented talent. Furthermore, social technologies have revolutionised how we connect with one another and have enabled businesses to collaborate both within and across organisational boundaries.

Mind your attitude – the impact of trends on needs and expectations

Trends don’t exist in isolation, of course; they combine in myriad ways to produce effects we can’t always predict. Nevertheless, from the interrelationship between people and technology, we can see the emergence of specific social attitudes that are already infiltrating the workplace. And it’s these mind-sets that are the key to the need for a new type of leadership.

  • Work-life integration: fuelled by gigging, limits to international talent, and networked technologies, work-life ‘balance’ will become redundant, as work and life can happen anywhere, anytime – essentially becoming one. Personal and professional communities will blur
  • Public-private life balance: social media has driven the power of the personal brand, key to show off skills of potentially otherwise hidden talent. At the same time, privacy is becoming  a premium
  • Quantified self: self-tracking is the MO of younger generations and could create ultimate employee experience, as well as identifying key talent early on, but with it comes the fear of being monitored
  • Greater good work: work is sought, particularly by purpose-seeking Generation Z, that is connected to social good or opportunities are pursued to work on charity projects
  • Ai workforce: Ai is welcomed as an enhancement to one’s work, but in the face of scarce or costly talent, is feared as either a colleague or a replacement. The fear-based actions of people is more of a danger than the robots themselves 

We are going to see talent, teams and cultures entirely redefined by these expectations, and managing them will require what we’re calling "digital leadership". 

The digital leader: the people-centric approach 

Don’t be fooled by the word ‘digital’. While technology is a driving force in this world, I hope this article has made clear that straight technical expertise isn’t going to cut it. No, the next generation of leader is going to need to be highly people-centric, understanding the impact of technology on their people (and vice versa) and using that knowledge to create an exceptional workforce.

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Digital leadership model

Capabilities: The VUCA of people and technology trends is driving highly chaotic change. Leaders who can leverage systems thinking to understand the dynamic relationship between people and technology, and use it to facilitate creativity and organisational agility, will be able to transition their organisations into the new digital age.

Values: Social technologies have created a transparency around people, meaning being respectful and authentic are critical leadership traits. A people-centric approach underpins everything: in an automated future, leaders will ironically need to be more empathic to keep teams together and individuals engaged.

Roles: The intense fluidity of teams, (AI, hidden) talent and cultures mean leaders will have to let go of control, moving from deciding to advising and empowering specialists, as well as facilitating collaboration between people and machines. It will be less about doing and more about inspiring others to do.

Not for the single-minded – PA’s Digital Leadership team

It is straight up impossible for one leader to be able to do all of the above. That’s why at PA, we have developed a Digital Leadership model that outlines six essential personas in a way that helps businesses build a balanced and highly effective digital leadership capability:

  • Visionary digital leader: is highly future-focused, creating a vision of a digital future
  • Creative digital leader: values and promotes game-changing ideas, actively seeking ways in which digital technologies can break existing moulds
  • Digitally-savvy digital leader: has a deep knowledge of digital technology, role modelling the use of digital throughout the business 
  • Data-immersed digital leader: drives decision making based on data-driven insights 
  • Operationalised digital leader: ensures digital innovations are successfully operationalised in the organisation 
  • Agile digital leader: is flexible and adaptable, making roles fluid and responding rapidly to opportunities in the market

The model is designed for a team of ‘spiky’ leaders, who individually exhibit one or more ‘personas’, and collectively demonstrate the broad capability required to ensure sustainable success. Our Digital Leadership model will help leaders uncover and leverage their natural strengths and provide an overview of critical digital capability gaps. It has also been designed in alignment with PA’s Digital Barometer so that both tools can be used together to provide a rich and powerful view of an organisation’s willingness and readiness to transform into the digital age.

Do you think you have what it takes to be a digital leader? To find out more, please contact Knut Erlend Vik.

Find out more about our work in financial services.

Contact the financial services team

Knut Erlend Vik

Knut Erlend Vik

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Thomas Bjørnstad

Thomas Bjørnstad

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