The European Commission has noted for years (http://eskills-scale.eu/inv/home/) that Europe has a great shortage of so-called e-leaders. People who both understand the digital world and have the management qualities to guide an organization through a digital transition. The European reports speak of a total pool of approximately 750,000 e-leaders and a shortage of approximately 200,000 e-leaders in the coming years. The research agency Emperica (https://www.empirica.com/de/themes/eskills-work/e-leadership/) has carried out numerous studies into e-leadership in contract research. The studies are often set up in consultation with the European CIO Association (https://eurocio.org/). It is an interesting feed for IT managers who want to know more about the background.
What are the main conclusions from these studies? First of all: courses in Europe are quite one-dimensional. You will be trained as a “technician”, but those courses often lack the subjects in management and soft skills. Or you may be trained for management positions, but this lacks the depth of knowledge in IT and digital subjects. And of course there are quite a few nowadays. The plea in all reports is therefore to set up more dual courses, in which sufficient depth of knowledge is gained in IT and digital subjects, but also in management subjects. More and more dual courses occur only sparingly, especially in executive programs. The other major problem, also in almost all countries of Europe, is that far too little is done from secondary schools to initiate technical and IT studies. Finally, it also has to do with the labour market. Technical and IT professions, although at the moment there seems to be something to change due to the large shortages, are underpaid. Career-oriented people often opt for general management courses. They are less difficult and the diploma pays better.
These are all matters that urgently require a solution in the digitizing society.
The current generation of IT leaders is often handicapped by the above situation. Many IT leaders come from the technical discipline. They know more than enough about technology and also how to manage IT people. But are these IT leaders fit to lead a major digital transformation in a large organization? Often not. And because a digital transformation is actually a business transformation, where digitization is a tool to make the digital business possible, the choice of a Board often falls on a business leader when it comes to implementing such a transformation. However, the problem may be that this business leader has too little affinity with the digital world.
What would be the ideal situation for a digital transition? An organization that does not have a good business and digital strategy, nor the competent management, should refrain from a digital transition adventure. So first make sure it is in order. Governance is crucial in such a transition and is always the first point of attention. There should be a Digital Transition Board, or whatever you want to call it, preferably chaired by someone from the Board of Directors, which includes the IT leader and other IT management alongside qualified business people. A somewhat technical IT leader can be “received” in such a team by his business colleagues. While the business people can learn from the IT leader, how to implement good program or project management according to the rules of the art. In any case, let’s say that it’s always about having the right people who form a close team. Many organizations have good people for a standing operation, but not for a major digital transition. That requires different skills. If those skills are not there, it must be purchased. That can never hurt, because even after a digital transition, the organization must continue to innovate: continuous change is the new standard. The composition of such a Digital Transition Board is crucial, as are the various project teams underneath. Be careful not to hire too much. Hiring a little capacity here and there is sometimes necessary if your own organization does not have the capacity. It is best to let the hiring manage the legacy, or vacancies in the standing organization, and to place the own people in the transition team. Having the digital transition carried out by people from outside requires failure. External parties are not trusted and also have too little commitment to the organization.
E-leadership (and leadership) is partly trivial in terms of thinking. Why does so much go wrong with digital transformations? It is almost always the human factor: wrong people put wrong people in the wrong positions. It is often a miracle that so much is still going well, thanks to the often boundless effort of people in project teams, who unfortunately often receive too little appreciation for it.
This is (an adaptation of) the column on the same topic in CIO Magazine No. 4 of 2018