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Technology isn’t your roadblock in the digital world, people are

| | Richard Appleby
Technology isn't your roadblock in the digital world, people are

The world’s connectivity is growing at an exponential rate. While this may be exciting from a consumer’s point of view, it’s giving Australia’s business leaders plenty to think about.

We’ve all seen the statistics. John Chambers of Cisco revealed there are currently 3 billion devices connected worldwide, a number that will grow to 4 billion by the end of next year. Understandably, this has a significant effect on the way organisations engage with and grow a customer base.

The most profound illustration of how quickly an organisation can grow in the connected world concerns the time it takes to reach 50 million customers. For Facebook, it took three years and eight months, WhatsApp did it in 15 months, but the game Angry Birds achieved the milestone in just 15 days.

With these statistics, it’s easy to see how the concept of digital disruption can become swiftly overwhelming. Could you find the capacity to handle 15 million extra customers in just 15 days?

Finding the roadblocks

Many businesses will look at digital disruption and see a technological issue, and then perceive the various roadblocks as hardware, software or investment shortcomings. The real roadblocks in most cases, however, are people.

Digital disruption is predicated on evolution. The problem is, people don’t like change, which is why so many existing businesses in the retail market continue to prioritise their traditional channels and leave it to newcomers to serve emerging markets.

It’s not just employees at the lower levels of a company that are resistant to change, leaders are just as guilty, and in fact may be the ones who need to adapt the most in the face of digital disruption.

Knowing where to find experience

As true digital disruption is all about how people use technology, not what technology can do for people, leaders need to acknowledge how to surround themselves with talent that fills any lingering gaps in their skills or experience.

Executive teams need to include a selection of digital natives, people who have grown up in this highly connected world and realise the implications for an organisation. The advantage for these people is that they don’t have anything to unlearn. Where a CEO or senior member of the board may rely too heavily on past experiences that aren’t compatible with the digital world, members of the digital generation grew up in it.

If organisations persist with a group of executives who have no tangible experience with the digital world, the business as a whole becomes change resistant. This is why it is so important to bring in people who have always been connected.

Those of us in our late fifties and so forth are very reticent when we’ve got this new wave of technology. Therefore we need team members who can think naturally about technology and show us how it should be done.

How leaders can communicate change to their employees

For digital disruption to have a positive effect on the way an organisation is run, leaders need to communicate their vision and strategy effectively.

One of the most important things for leaders to demonstrate to the rest of the workforce is that they’re prepared to take a risk. Not only do they have to prove that they’re able to consider risks, they need to acknowledge that they may fail.

This works to break down some of the dynamics between employees and their leaders as it adds a new degree of openness to the relationship.

People are resistant to change, but if leaders can work out where their roadblocks are and bring in the right expertise to help, they can guide their organisation through the challenges presented by digital disruption.

Richard ApplebyBy Richard Appleby, TEC Chair

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