Think of a successful business leader and Bill Gates will likely top the list. The technology tycoon is more often than not a go-to choice for advice on handling technology and theorising its impact on businesses. Over 20 years ago he predicted that ‘the first rule of technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.’ Though these words were spoken at a time when tech disruption was in its infancy, their significance still speaks in spades today. Technology and its constant innovation and implementation may be the cornerstones of today’s business environment, but in the absence of leaders to enhance its proficiencies and use it to produce results, what good is the tech without someone to lead it?
Business as usual?
Now, more than ever, agile leadership is crucial. Leadership, business and talent are edging closer towards automation, AI, robo-staff and technological density that was once only a reality in sci-fi scenes and showings of Blade Runner. And it’s showing no signs of slowing down. While some will cower at the thought of the new era and arm themselves with an old-school ‘business as usual’ approach, optimists will see technology disruption as an opportunity for growth, development and a renewed approach to engagement. A study conducted by Consultancy UK found that 40% of CEOs are looking towards tech-based innovation to negate the uncertainty surrounding the future of employment and lifecycle in the wake of Brexit and other socio-political situations. Closer to home, 65% of Australian CEO respondents to a 2017 survey by KPMG said that they saw technological disruption as more of an opportunity than a threat, and 91% agreed that they were ready to lead their firms through these radical transformations.
Tech and the talent crunch
The increasing disruptions to established business operations by emerging technology reveals a necessity to adjust how we recruit. From talent management of a digital workforce to cybersecurity and overall company growth, this wave of disruption has had enormous impacts on how companies build their teams.
Disruption has also rewritten the rulebook on what positions need to be filled and the purpose they serve. Lands’ End CEO, Jerome Griffith stated in KMPG’s 2018 Growing Pains report that ‘I don’t think that digitisation leads to job creation or job loss. I think it changes the required skill sets.’ A report by Deloitte and the Australian Computer Society (ACS) in 2018 found that Australia needs another 200 000 skilled technology workers to populate the workforce in the next five years in order to bring Australia’s industry into line with global leader benchmarks. A 30% jump from where these numbers currently sit, the stats foreshadow a hugely competitive future talent marketplace that requires strong and discerning leadership in affected companies to build sound teams.
The question of skills required to foster the digital revolution is one thing, but the threat of automation and the capacity of leaders to navigate these fears is a whole other ballgame. KPMG’s report found that leaders were 50-50 fence sitters with respect to whether they considered technological disruption as a factor in job losses, with only half manifesting Griffith’s mindset that views the changes as simply a shift towards new skill requirements. Though as we have already experienced an abundance of job losses to automation in retail, manufacturing and administrative industries to date, the fear of these losses spiralling is real and the need for strong leadership to combat this is just as prevalent.
Out with the static, in with the strategy
So here we end up at the end-point of Gates’ prediction – efficient operation. In an age where technology is rewriting the rules, thus redefining what is required of leaders, what exactly constitutes an efficient operator?
Digital age leaders will be AGILE – they’re constantly adopting new mindsets and adjusting expectations as fresh ideas come to pass and past ones are returned to the drawing board with a swiftness that only an adaptable environment can facilitate.
They will be CURIOUS and regard the unpredictable nature of today’s business environment as an endless pool of opportunity to embrace innovation rather than a hindrance to established procedures.
Digital leaders will be STRATEGIC and demonstrate an awareness of the challenges to recruiting an abundance of highly skilled tech-minded talent in a climate where the pool of such employees is largely sparse.
Most importantly, they will CHALLENGE THE STATUS QUO and take every opportunity to grasp the first-movers advantage with two hands and debunk archaic business traits along the way in order to maximise the productivity and engagement of their team and clients.
We’re all familiar with the ‘survival of the fittest’ tropes, and the same goes for the future of business leadership in the face of unwavering digitisation. So, with this picture painted of the future profile of an agile leader, or the purveyors of Gates’ concept of ‘efficient operation’, it begs the question – where do you stand? How would you rate your team’s agility, performance, engagement and skillset? Where do you fall short? The tech is here to stay, so there’s never been a better time to give these questions some thought and make the ideal answers your reality.