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Bridge Over Troubled Water 

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Findings from the 2020 Future of Leadership Global Executive Study and Research Project, published by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), confirm what’s widely acknowledged - numerous international companies are struggling with digital transformation. It contentiously reports that many business leaders themselves are a bottleneck and are out of touch with what it will take to win, and to lead, in the digital economy. This may make uncomfortable reading for international company leaders and while it’s important for them to “face the facts”, we must ask ourselves as partners/suppliers:  

What can we do to help them succeed in dealing with troubled waters?

Before we suggest a helpful and practical approach, let’s look at the issues that leaders are facing, according to MIT’s report. ​​​​​​​

​​​​​​​Issues & Challenges 

Digitalisation, well-funded start-up competitors, the need for breakneck speed and agility, and an increasingly diverse and demanding workforce require more from leaders than what most can offer.  The need for change is urgent, time is running out for leaders who adhere to “old ways”, and yet the current leadership generation, even though it is out of touch with the latest innovations, is still in control of strategy.  

MIT’s report, “The New Leadership Playbook for the Digital Age: Reimagining What It Takes to Lead” explores how the changing nature of competition, work, and society is influencing the future of leadership. They surveyed 4,394 global leaders from more than 120 countries, conducted 27 executive interviews, and facilitated focus-group exchanges with next-gen emerging leaders worldwide.  

The findings serve as a warning (and hopefully an inspiration) for today’s leaders — that in order to credibly transform their organisations, they must first credibly transform themselves and their teams. 

  • Just 12% of respondents strongly agreed that their leaders have the right mindsets to lead them forward. 
  • Only 48% agreed that their organisations are prepared to compete in digitally driven markets and economies. 
  • While 82% believe that leaders in the new economy will need to be digitally savvy, less than 10% of respondents strongly agreed that their organisations have leaders with the right skills to thrive in the digital economy. 

Beyond the digital readiness issue the data claimed that some cultural and behavioural leadership norms that worked well in the past are no longer effective and that navigating the gap between past and present has created intractable tensions, which could explain why so many companies are slow, unresponsive, siloed, overly hierarchical, and excessively focused on short-term returns. 

Also command and control (aka micromanagement) might have worked in the past but now holds back the talents of employees throughout their organisations. Considering the knowledge and potential influence of the “IT generation”, leaders would do well to enable systems that listen better to their more digitally savvy troops. 

A HELPFUL APPROACH TO DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION (OF IT PROCUREMENT) 

We don’t profess to be experts in company digital transformation projects, but we do know a lot of about transforming indirect IT procurement (20% of Forbes 2000 are clients).  

Whilst it’s sadly still true that some companies’ procurement strategies fail to look beyond short-term cost savings into long term value creation and it can’t be denied that digitalisation is continually disrupting every business function including IT procurement it’s important to understand that certain leadership behaviours and attributes — honesty, integrity, inspiration, trust and transparency — have withstood the test of time, regardless of a person’s nationality, age, cultural context, or industry.  

It’s those qualities that we bring to the party. Markit’s 9500+ clients in 34 countries will recognise this from our “helping clients succeed” approach. As a trusted partner we have helped numerous international companies overcome many of the challenges in the field of digitising indirect IT procurement. 16 years of listening carefully to the unique challenges each company faces have taught us that the solution is found through empathy (not judgment), understanding deeply (not presuming), and advising honestly (not pushing “our solution” unless it’s a perfect fit). 

We see how hard it is for some companies to run their current overloaded teams and processes and at the same time migrate to new platforms. Global IT purchasing is a complex matter. It is a struggle and we are here to help companies succeed, not judge them for their perceived shortcomings.  

At the end of the day, which company can honestly say they have digital transformation completely solved and are struggle-free? And so, we would urge specialist category suppliers like ourselves to empathise and focus deeply on understanding the issues their potential clients face before jumping in with criticisms and magic solutions. 

Going one step further we have written before how a step by step approach is worth considering. CPOs who want to help lead their companies on an ambitious, disruptive and profitable journey would be wise to start in areas where gains are easily demonstrated and to collaborate with an experienced partner. Read more here: Inch by Inch, the CPO Transforms - Digitally