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Author's profile photo Sven Denecken

Digital Transformation, Part 4: The Role of Leadership

Mastering the digital transformation under the pressure of possible disruption is challenging, especially with so many lacking the management and experience necessary.  Leadership is critical in order to kick-start the transformation.  Clear direction and initiative from the right leader can make a substantial push forward toward achieving digital transformation. I would even argue that no leadership means no change and no transformation.

A 2013 survey by MIT Sloan and Capgemini Consulting reports that 40% of executives and managers interviewed cite a lack of urgency in the company as the biggest barrier to digital transformation. Even worse, 93% of employees state that they would say yes to a focus on digital transformation. 

So while the exact entry point into digital transformation (customers?  business? processes?) is less widely agreed upon, one thing is clear: businesses need to adopt a digital transformation vision.


Digital transformation is often pigeonholed as an IT topic, but it is not. If done right, digital transformation affects the entire enterprise. It might start with a well-prepared CIO, fueling the company with new tools and the simplification of processes. But because of the potentially huge impact on the entire company, the strategy needs to be directed from the top down.

Should a digital transformation involve transitioning to an “as a service” business, all C-level executives will need to direct change.  The CFO, CHRO, COO, and CMOs must adapt, since their key areas – financials, people, production, and sales and marketing – will all be affected.

We’ve seen this top-down approach work successfully with the German Football Association (DFB – Deutscher Fussball-Bund).  Oliver Bierhoff, the national team general manager, wanted to improve communication between players.  Realizing that players preferred communicating digitally, Bierhoff connected the dots and commissioned an app for team communication and data analysis.  Within weeks, the team was using the app to communicate and debrief, to perform split-second analysis and to gain deeper insights from player data.  Now with a World Cup victory under their belt, Bierhoff and the team are already thinking of new functions for the app to advance their performance even further.


By all means, leaders undertaking digital transformation will have to face a number of challenges.  To start, they must recognize the varying levels of digital proficiency (more details in our previous blog, “The building blocks”).

Not everyone will adapt easily to digital transformation – some may even resist it.  Other problems that leaders may run into include inertia, defensive attitudes, and internal politics. To combat these and to ensure that everyone is on board, organizations need to invest in training and change management workshops, for example, to teach usage and convey the benefits of digital initiatives.

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Hi Sven,

      You highlighted very good points as usual. I think Bill McDermott's Empathy Lines the Path to Simple posting is supporting the facts that you have mentioned.