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Are your management skills ready for the digital era?

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Having scrambled to adapt to the new working landscape brought upon by the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations now face uncertainty and new understandings about what the future of work holds. What will our lives be like after the pandemic has passed? One thing that has been widely agreed upon is the acceleration towards a digital economy and workplace. According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report[1] , 54% of all employees will require significant reskilling and upskilling by 2022. Businesses are reevaluating their existing processes and considering making a transformative leap to go digital.

However, that doesn’t merely entail increasing technical knowledge. In order for a true digital transformation to take place, ‘digital’ has to be embedded into the entire organizational structure and the visions of company leadership. Employees will need to take on new workflows and adapt to new frameworks and mindsets that the digital era will require. Leaders will require the tenacity to embrace the feedback yielded by automation and the strength to make significant change, even if that means deviating from tradition.

The role of managers is changing and those striving to remain relevant, must work diligently at developing the skills that fit with the trends that will shape tomorrow. There are at least five guiding principles where managers must invest in growing and tuning their skills.

1. Support your employees’ health and well-being

COVID-19 has hit everyone hard, and employees and employers alike have been trying to transition into new routines and workplace processes which prioritize remote work and flexibility. As a leader its essential that you stay connected with and be patient with your employees as they adapt, and promote company initiatives which help with managing health, both physical and mental. Need some ideas? What about webinars on how to maintain work-life balance effectively within a remote working set-up? What about keeping up with coffee chats to preserve organizational culture? These are just a few of the ideas suggested by Joel Fastenberg, Head of HR for Singapore and ASEAN, Citi.[2] 

What underlies all this? Empathy. Digital leaders now lead to demonstrate empathy, on top of a clear vision and commitment to a healthy work culture. Studies are starting to suggest that being a digital leader requires more effort as compared to traditional forms of leadership where face-to-face contact was the norm. "Digital leadership requires intentionally fostering interpersonal communication, creating a sense of community and making sure everyone can work both efficiently and effectively to maximize productivity."[3] 

2. Open communication is the way to go

Given the reduced face-to-face time spent together, you’ll need to make goals and targets extra clear for your employees. Communicating effectively is challenging at the best of times for managers – now with the added pressures and limitations brought on by the pandemic effective communication will be even harder.

Making the effort to effectively communicate also builds trust, which will improve your relationship with your employees for the long haul. The collective team is stronger than the sum of the parts only when the interactions between team members are optimal.[1] 

Once again, empathy is key! Put yourself in the shoes of others and try to understand your employees’ and stakeholders’ perspectives, though they may greatly differ from what you’re used to.

This is so that you’ll be able to effectively communicate your ideas to colleagues and stakeholders and reassure them that their collective best interest is taken into consideration when making decisions. Employees value individuals who can explain not just what needs to be done, but also why specific actions are required. [2] 

3. A changing world calls for innovation

To survive in the post-pandemic world where digital services will be at the forefront of business transactions, it will be important to be open to change and adaptation going forward. Also, fostering an innovative culture within your team starts with you! Be accepting of the sharing of new ideas and make sure that your team builds on skillsets crucial for the digital era.

The digital transformation of the workforce also means that innovation and creative thinking will have to be conducted via virtual teams across a multitude of geographical locations. Managers will need to find unconventional ways to foster creative thinking and innovative practices to succeed in the new world of work.

So, don’t be afraid to think out of the box. According to Walmart’s Donna Morris[1] , the company mindset has had to shift alongside the changing times- the focus is no longer on perfection before implementation. Trying new things, iterating as you go, and moving with speed is now in. Don’t be afraid to relook old workflows- to survive digital disruptions, your team must be willing to start afresh with a new approach if necessary. This is your chance to lead by example and accept new perspectives!

4. Prioritize people

As a leader embracing the digital transformation doesn’t just mean upgrading equipment and putting advanced technological processes and initiatives into place. It also means focusing on the people: making sure everyone is up to speed and on the same page with regards to what changes are needed to support the team vision. This is why it’s so important to invest in the development of your employees so that your workers will be able to, in turn, manage new technologies to create quality services and products for your customers and stakeholders.

Preserving the company culture is also necessary to make sure that employees will create quality products and services in line with your company’s visions. Remember that the production of a good service or product starts from within- you as a manager, your team and the relationships you have with each other! Lead by example and get creative; this will encourage your employees to be open with their ideas and thoughts as well. Also, if they see that you’re passionate about digital, they’ll be engaged in making the transformation work as well.

5. Build up your technical skills

There’s no need to be the expert, but leaders with a certain degree of technical understanding will be able to see the larger picture of how technology will fit into the overall plan for digital transformation, as well as better understand the product or service being offered. Also, managers with technical understanding will be more equipped to understand and even remove roadblocks to efficiency and effectiveness for their team.

Digital leaders are very much needed to pave the way for digital transformation; they design and deliver the organisation of tech and they decide on the type of change management interventions that are needed to guide the organisation through the journey.[1]  Do take the time to equip yourself with the relevant capabilities, so as to develop a visionary mindset and spirit resilient to disruption. Organisations need such leaders who will understand the impact tech will have on their business. Such leaders can better gauge the possibility of making something happen in the digital landscape and utilise processes to generate new insights through automation. [2] 

If you’re not there yet, don’t fret! These are still areas in which managers around the world are trying to adjust and improve. If you’re able to maintain a constructive attitude, growth mindset and intellectual curiosity, you’ll continuously improve and ultimately, become that leader who’s able to effectively lead, inspire and execute. 

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