Fear, Frustration and Hope in a Covid19 threatened Digital World


Photo by CDC on Unsplash

We live in unprecedented times. With Covid19, we are in a global war with an invisible enemy – a war in which we are both potential victims of, and foot soldiers for that enemy. We all live in fear for ourselves, and even more so for our families – our parents, children and grandchildren, as well as for all those who are more exposed and at risk to this unseen yet ever-present enemy.

At a time like this we need strong, decisive and transparent leadership at all levels. Leadership that must also be compassionate and comforting in helping us understand that we are all in this together, and that collectively we can and must play our part in beating this enemy. Here, in Canada, and in our province, British Columbia, we are seeing that, as we are generally across Canada. But this is a global war with an enemy that moves fast and silently, and respects no borders and no-one, and that can be anywhere at any time. At a time like this, it is immensely frustrating that we are not seeing a collaborative global response to this global enemy. Instead, from many leaders across the world – some more so than others – we have seen, and are seeing: Denial instead of action; Delay instead of speed; Secrecy instead of openness; Division instead of unification; Competition instead of collaboration; putting Self-Interest ahead of the interest of the people, and (largely driven by that same self-interest) putting National Interest instead of global interest…and the list goes on.

In what we once referred to as the IT space, but what is now increasingly becoming an all-encompassing digital world, we have suffered from similar failures of leadership for decades. We have seen, and continue to see many billions of dollars spent on technology with all too often little or no value being delivered as a result of those expenditures.

In this current crisis, it is frustrating to see the inability of aging technology systems – systems that have been neglected for far too long, to respond to critical needs in an agile and timely way. We are experiencing the result of years or decades of little or no investment in maintaining and updating our technology infrastructure. Where new investments have been made, they have all too often failed to deliver the expected value – assuming that value was even clearly defined at the outset, which is generally the exception rather than the rule. These investments are often made without clear understanding, ownership and accountability from the business or organizational leadership, and without inclusive and ongoing engagement of those who have to use and live with the systems and applications resulting from those investments.

But there is also hope. During this crisis we have seen, and continue to see the ability of organizations and individuals in all sectors to pivot to new ways of delivering their products and services. As Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, summed it up, Social distancing rules have brought forward the adoption of a wide range of technologies by two years. A comment echoed by Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai predicting a “significant and lasting” impact from the forced move to online work, education, shopping, medicine and entertainment.

In the case of healthcare, digitally-enabled services that have been discussed for years or, in some cases decades, have been delivered in a few weeks. Manufacturers have retooled their production to produce respirators and Personal Protection Equipment. Distilleries have switched production from liquor to hand sanitizer.  In response to a request from local hospitals, Quinn Callander, a 12 year old boy scout in Vancouver, Canada answered a request from the local hospitals for a device to help relieve severe pain from pressure and friction of wearing masks for long periods. Working with his 3D printer, and by prototyping several designs, he developed a simple but effective “ear guard” strap. In just a few weeks, he has produced 1,700 such straps, a volunteer group he is part of has made an additional 5,000 straps, and he has made the design available for others to download[1]. Across America, makers of all ages and skill-levels have thrown themselves into helping to alleviate the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). Some are actually making masks, shields and gowns. Others are collaborating on designs, and making those designs public. Still others are trying to figure out how to get PPE to those who need it most as quickly as possible. These charitable tinkerers provide ground for both a deeply American sort of hope—strangers doing as much as they can, wherever they can, for the good of their neighbours—and despair, at the colossal federal failure that inspired them[2].

An article in the April 25th edition of The Economist under the heading “Creative Disruption” discusses the pandemic “liberating firms to experiment with new ideas”, and being to do so at breakneck speed, and without huge financial outlays. But, as evidenced above, it’s more than that. It is actually liberating organizations of all types, and in all sectors, as well as individuals of all ages across the world to do so. As Michael Waters said on April 30th in the Financial Times, “The pandemic is working on all the main levers that affect the pace of digital adoption: consumer behaviour, business processes and government regulation”.

We are seeing examples of outstanding leadership coming from everywhere and anywhere, but not, in all too many cases, from those in “official” leadership positions in the public and private sector. The challenge ahead, when the Covid19 crisis is brought under control, to whatever extent that may happen, is how to keep the momentum, and not slip back, as The Economist article says, to our comfortable traditional world of  ‘“analysis paralysis”, an affliction caused by top managers having pored over the same irrelevant case studies at business school.’ We need to tap in to that outstanding, yet previously unrecognized leadership that is everywhere and everywhere. This will require rethinking, or blowing up previous models of leadership and management

We need to ask ourselves, when the crisis abates, are we going to fall back to the traditional world of ineffective leadership, bloated inefficient bureaucracies, and disengaged employees and citizens, or are we going to learn from the crisis and move forward together to a better world. A world in which leadership is a behaviour, recognized, nurtured and rewarded throughout an organization, with leadership at the top playing a role akin to some combination of an orchestra conductor, and an air traffic controller. A world in which: Bureaucracy, a term coined roughly two centuries ago is no longer fit for purpose when today’s employees are skilled, not illiterate; Competitive Advantage comes from innovation, not sheer size; Communication is instantaneous, not tortuous; and the Pace of Change is hypersonic, not glacial. A world in which employees, as in the case of China’s Haier, are engaged as “energetic entrepreneurs, and an open ecosystem of users, inventors and partners replaces formal hierarchy”[3].

[1] Source: Fast Company, April 9, 2020, “This 12-year-old invented an ingenious solution to one of the biggest problems with masks”

[2] Source: The Economist, April 30, 2020, “America’s Makers and tinkerers turn their hands to PPE

[3] Source: The End of Bureaucracy, Gary Hamel and Michael Zanini, Harvard Business Review, November-December 1918 Issue

Digital Leadership – Much More Than IT Leadership

There has been much discussion of late on who should be responsible for “digitization”. The role of the CIO is being continually questioned, particularly as it relates to the CMO, and. a new position, the CDO, is appearing. And, of course, let’s not forget the CTO. A recent post by Michael Krigsman describing Intel’s IT leadership and transformation pyramid got me thinking yet again about this. The pyramid, shown below, is a brilliantly simple depiction of how digital leadership must evolve (in my words) from an operational “factory” to a business partner to a transformational leader.

 

intel-it-transformation-pyramid

As Michael Krigsman says, “The pyramid reflects the complex reality of IT / business relationships and the need for IT to deliver at multiple levels simultaneously.” This reminded me of discussions I had in New York last month at the Innovation Value Institute (IVI) Spring Summit around their IT Capability Maturity Framework (IT-CMF). The discussion centred around the digital economy, and the fact that organizations are taking an increasingly business-centric view of IT, with the focus shifting from the delivery of the “T” to the use of the “I”. That technology itself, how technology is delivered, how it is used, and by whom are changing at an ever-increasing rate. And that this is blurring the roles and responsibilities of IT and the Business functions, and giving rise to a fundamental rethinking of how IT, and it’s delivery and use is governed and managed, and the capabilities that are required to ensure and assure that the use of technology contributes to creating and sustaining business value.

In an earlier post, The Digital Economy and the IT Value Standoff, I reiterated my long-leld view that the business change that IT both shapes and enables must be owned by business leaders, and they must accept accountability, and be held accountable for creating and sustaining business value from that change. This cannot be abdicated to the IT function. Yet today, in all too many cases, we have a stand-off where the business doesn’t want to take ownership, and the IT function doesn’t know how, or doesn’t want to give up control.

The key question that arose from the Summit discussion was “Why can’t we get our business leadership engaged in this discussion?” Certainly not a new question – how to do so was essentially the underlying theme of The Information Paradox when it was first published back in 1998. The answer to the question, going back to the leadership pyramid, is that the IT organization has to achieve operational excellence before it can start to change the conversation from bottom-up delivery of technology to top-down value from business change. This requires a maturity level of around 2.5, where 5 is the highest maturity – most organizations are still not yet at this level, most being somewhere between 1 and 2.

So, what does this mean for the CIO? Much has been written about CIOs themselves having to transform to fulfil the 3 leadership roles of the pyramid – running the factory, partnering with the business for value, and strategic transformational leadership. There is no doubt that all these roles are required – but is it reasonable, or necessary to expect that they will be found in one individual. Certainly, there are CIOs who have stepped up to the plate, but many more that haven’t, and possibly cannot.  Professor Joe Peppard at the  European School of Technology and Management in Berlin has put many hundreds of participants through an IT leadership program. He describes in a recent article how, using Myers Briggs typing, he has found that 70% of CIOs fall into one particular type: ISTJs (Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging). Further, along the dimension of where they get their energy, 85% have a preference for introversion. In terms of moving up the pyramid, the very things that may contribute to success in their technology role, can be what leads to downfall in a business leadership position. Even where an individual does have the ability to handle all 3 levels, the day-to-day operational demands all too often leave little time for the other 2 levels. Demands that, while they will definitely change with the advent of the cloud and “everything as a service”, will not go away.

The real issue here is not so much, as Michael Krigsman says, “the need for IT to deliver at multiple levels simultaneously”, but understanding the range of digital leadership capabilities and responsibilities required in the digital economy, and where they should reside. The answer is not as simple as renaming the CIO position, getting a new CIO, or appointing a few new CXOs. It requires recognizing that digitization cuts across organizational silos, and across all levels of organizations.. It will take digital literacy and collaboration across the C-suite to ensure that their organization has, as EY’s David Nichols said in a recent CIO Insight interview, “an integrated and holistic plan to really leverage digital”. It will also require recognizing that the digital economy both enables and requires a different view of leadership. As Sally Helgesen said in a recent post, “‘Leadership’ isn’t Just for Leaders Anymore”, leadership no longer, or should no longer equate with positional power and has, or should become broadly distributed.

If organizations are to succeed in the digital economy, they cannot constrain themselves to the knowledge of a few individuals – to put it a more brutal way, they cannot be constrained by the habits or ego(s) of their leader(s)! Organisations must tap into the collective knowledge of all their people. We need effective governance that reaches out to and involves key stakeholders – retaining appropriate accountability, based on the law of subsidiarity – an organizing principle that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. This means locating accountability and decision-making at the most appropriate level, while supporting decisions with broader and more knowledgeable input.

As a former colleague of mine, Don Tapscott,  has said for decades “Leadership can come from anywhere”. For organizations to survive and thrive in the digital economy, this is not an option!