Why CEOs Need To Be At The Forefront Of Their Company’s Digital Revolution

Digital disruptors like the advent of artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things have required technology leadership be instigated from the top down.

The digital revolution has churned out a massive amount of new technology in a comparatively miniscule amount of time. Just think: in the span of fifty years we went from landline telephones and early microprocessors to smart phones with facial recognition and paper-thin laptops—not to mention artificial intelligence, cryptocurrency, and cars that drive themselves. The rate at which technology has and will continue to progress is staggering—and its steep trajectory has disrupted corporate America in a very real way.

A recent article from McKinsey, Why Digital Transformation Is Now On The CEO’s Shoulders outlines these impacts of the digital revolution on corporations in a concise—albeit hard-to-stomach—way: “Since 2000, over 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies have been acquired, merged, or [have] declared bankruptcy, with no end in sight.” At the root of their failure has been an unwillingness to adapt to the latest digital advances. So how can organizations not only avoid extinction but thrive and grow in this new era in history? They can adapt to digital changes from the top down; in other words, it all needs to start with the CEO.

Becoming More Agile In The Age Of Digital Disruptors

For the better part of the last century, advances in technology and computing have been instigated from the ground up, with IT driving technological growth within specific industries. But that way of doing things now falls into an outdated, siloed model of company organization, where disparate departments like technology, marketing, and user experience failed to communicate with one another and align their goals. It doesn’t lend itself to innovation or navigating the latest and greatest digital advancements.

The latest digital disruptors—like the advent of artificial intelligence, big data, cloud computing, and the Internet of Things (IoT)—now dictate the need for a more agile company structure and a CEO-mandated approach to innovation. In order to survive, businesses have had to develop clear-cut strategies on the digital disruptors changing the landscape of the modern world. When companies have been able to do this in recent years—to restructure, reposition, and better adapt to the current digital climate—it’s usually been mandated from the top down, starting with the CEO.

How CEOs Can Lead The Charge: Not Just Technological Adoption, But Employee Engagement As Well

CEOs need to be leading the charge for the entire organization to adopt to a more agile and innovative environment in this sink-or-swim digital environment. How can they do this? By not only taking into consideration the adoption of new technology, but prioritizing employee engagement across the company. Today’s CEO needs to do more than build an innovative team that comes up with new ideas—they need to rally the entire organization, viewing their company as a cohesive force for collaboration.

And when it comes to hiring new employees, today’s CEO also needs to ask if their employment brand is attractive to the right people in the digital age. You want to attract people who can contribute to the innovation of your company in a significant way, and to do this you need to communicate not only what the company stands for now, but what it will stand for in the future.

Take GE, for example. Regardless of their current situation, about 4 or 5 years ago they began repositioning their employee brand to attract more engineers to work on innovative software that keeps trains running. They established themselves as a future-focused company where people can work on the latest software and digital advancements, not just the physical trains or machines themselves.

I’ve personally seen this done first-hand with companies like Pitney Bowes, too. Known as a mailing machine company, they realized they had to become more of a software and services company focused on global e-commerce in order to be successful and effective in the digital age. We helped them reposition themselves as “the craftsmen of commerce” in an era when it was becoming apparent that the printing world was about to undergo a massive change. They’ve now created software to empower ecommerce companies and managed to not only survive but thrive amidst the latest digital disruptors. As Pitney Bowes president Lila Snyder sums up nicely in her article What It Takes To Lead In An Ever-Evolving Industry: “when you have first mover advantage, realize that it is an advantage today—but you really need to be ready for tomorrow. Leaders should encourage innovation across the business and across all functions.”

It may sound harsh, but it’s the truth: companies that fail to navigate these complex digital waters are likely to be sunk. Corporate America has been under siege for far too long, and it’s needed to undergo massive changes to keep up with these massive innovations. To thrive amidst today’s digital revolution, companies need a visionary CEO who’s willing to be an adopter of new technology and learn from the world’s best companies on how to be more agile and reposition their brand in these revolutionary times. It’s not an easy task, but it’s one that a CEO—used to harnessing new ideas and contextualizing them for their industry—needs to lead.

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