Why middle managers own the responsibility to accelerate digital transformation

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© Tweeter Linder 2017 – All rights reserved. Photo by iStock

Senior executives need strong support from middle managers to speed up digital transformation agendas. First, many executives are digital immigrants. With limited experience from digital leadership, markets, business models and tools. Second, the available time required to build digital skills does not meet the demand from fast moving markets. Third, understanding digital in depth is a new fundamental expectation. Required from any middle manager my aspirations to take their career to the next level.

Senior executive realities

Digital transformations represent large changes. Changes driven from the top. With a strong dependency on skills and capabilities further down in the organization.

It is unrealistic for an executive to grasp the complete nature of the change. But possible to create teams with a broad enough digital diversity.  Securing his/her team can lead the transformation.

Taking the challenge to lead a change, where you rely more in your team than your own skills is new for many executives. And a real test of your digital courage.

Middle managers’ digital capabilities

The digital skills of middle managers are vital enablers for digital transformation. Critical transformation skills are less about technology.  More about strategy, leadership and business model transformations.

Digital transformation requires a clear strategic framework for businesses in different stages of maturity. Going beyond the classic Boston Consulting Group matrix. Putting emphasis on what to transform first and which innovations to incubate further. An area where Geoffrey Moore’s transformation zone framework can come in handy.

Second, the leadership transformation is a major development field. Where parts of the experiences come from digital leaders. With experience sharing from the first moving leaders perhaps even more important. Knowing digital is one thing, but knowing how to apply digital to your business is what matters.

The business model development is the third anchor. Viewing your models with fresh eyes. With different approaches depending on if you are exploiting or neutralizing a digital disruption.

Build skills on your way up

Boards are pushing tough digital transformation agendas on leadership teams. As no board has missed the importance of digital transformation to stay relevant. This is the opportunity for middle managers to step-up and upgrade their own capabilities. As few if any transformations can succeed without developing the mid field fast.

The executive level is a tough place to build skills. Aspire to take on the challenge in the middle to pave your road up, or as your road to remain in. There is a clear expectation you need to start building before you get the signals from the top. But the time you get the signal the time to grow is too short.

Questions to ask yourself and your team

  1. What is your middle management digital literacy today – compared to your target.
  2. What is required to accelerate our middle managers’ digital skills – across a variety of fields.
  3. When do middle managers need to be ready to contribute – in digitally diverse teams.
  4. Where do we have our biggest gaps – to plug with development or new hires.
  5. Who can mentor our middle managers’ digital development – when superiors lack skills.

Additional reading suggestions 

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