7 habits of transformational leaders

Dec. 10, 2020
With a nod to Stephen Covey, best practices to guide your own digitalization journey

In the scant five years since the potential of rapidly accelerating digital technologies to transform industry was given a name, many enterprises have set their sights on Industry 4.0. And while none may be able to say they’ve arrived at their final destination, many have made tremendous progress. So much so, that when it comes to digital transformation (DX), a number of consensus best-practice strategies and tactics have emerged.

Many of those hard-earned lessons were on display at the 2020 DX Strategists conference, held earlier this year in conjunction with Rockwell Automation’s ROKLive Experience. As part of this virtual event, I had the privilege of moderating a series of webcast conversations with winners of our sister publication Smart Industry's Transformational Leadership awards. Sponsored by Rockwell Automation, the awards were created to celebrate both individual contributors as well as organizational achievements. And while each of the dozen speakers' stories were as unique as the companies they represented, a number of common themes emerged.

  1. Start at the top, lead from the front: While the commitment of top management to support an organization’s transformation journey is certainly not sufficient for success, it's a necessary central pillar according to many of our award winners. Indeed, the more ambitious and thoroughgoing the effort, the higher the seat of initiative and leadership in the organization. Yet to build buy-in among the rank and file, it’s also important that the architects and champions of transformation roll up their sleeves and take a hands-on role.
  2. Be humble, question everything: It’s really too limiting to characterize as “digital” the transformations undertaken by our award honorees. Rather, the most successful individuals and organizations approached their reinvention with an open mind and honest humility about their current state. They questioned everything—not just technology, but work processes, customer relationships, product offerings and—perhaps most importantly—longstanding biases and engrained ways of thinking.
  3. Eliminate silos from systems, org charts: Industry is rife with silos of data that aren't always accessible to the individuals or other systems that could make good use of that access for timelier, better-informed decisions. Much of industry’s earliest digital transformation efforts have focused on eliminating these data siloes through appropriate integration efforts. It’s a significant technical undertaking, but often pales in comparison to eliminating siloes within the organization itself.
  4. Enable transparency, decide with data: Closely allied to eliminating information and organizational siloes is providing visibility into the true, real-time operational status of production assets and the use of data—rather than tribal knowledge or gut instincts—to drive decision-making.
  5. Align new offers with customer needs: While many of this year’s award winners were recognized for efforts focused inwardly on improving the performance of their own operations, others leveraged new digital and communication technologies to reinvent the value proposition offered to their customers. Prioritize what they need, not what you're equipped to make that they might buy.
  6. Prioritize pilots that will scale quickly: One common complaint of early digital transformation efforts was the tendency to get bogged down in “pilot purgatory." Almost universally, our honorees found ways to focus their efforts on pilots that could be readily scaled across the organization.
  7. Partner carefully, learn from others: A final common "habit" among our award winners is the willingness to learn from other companies and to leverage the competencies of key partners.

Space constraints don't allow me to share the full stories of our Transformational Leadership award winners in this editorial. But for a detailed, expanded treatment of lessons learned from the likes of Eli Lilly & Company, Pfizer and Georgia-Pacific, find my full treatise at smartindustry.com.

About the author: Keith Larson
About the Author

Keith Larson | Group Publisher

Keith Larson is group publisher responsible for Endeavor Business Media's Industrial Processing group, including Automation World, Chemical Processing, Control, Control Design, Food Processing, Pharma Manufacturing, Plastics Machinery & Manufacturing, Processing and The Journal.

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