Leaders of legacy organisations can successfully lead a digital transformation if they reinvent their approach to almost everything – from assets and operations to processes and people.

At the AGSM @ UNSW Business School’s Leading Digital Transformation Masterclass series, panellists agreed that with a long-term, future-focused outlook and an investment in increased digital literacy and education, leaders can equip their business for tremendous outcomes when they embrace digital.

The panel was hosted by AGSM’s Leading Digital Transformation Program Director Sanjay Verma and included digital experts Professor Venkat Venkatraman, Professor of Management at Questrom Business School, Boston University; Jennie Granger, Professor of Practice, UNSW School of Taxation and Law; Wendy O’Keeffe, General Manager at Tech Data, Dr Carmen Leong, Lecturer, Information Systems and Technology Management UNSW Business School; and Research Director Liming Zhu, CSIRO’s Data61.

Together they shared their insights into the skills, characteristics and strategies leaders need to prepare their business to thrive in the 21st century.

Embracing a transformation mindset

The panel agreed that when it comes to embracing digital transformation, the biggest difficulty for leaders is not developing new ideas – but escaping from old ones. “Many businesses that have been around for 30 to 40 years are really good at what they do, but find it difficult to embrace change,” explained Wendy O’Keeffe, General Manager at Tech Data, one of the world’s largest technology distributors.

Professor Jennie Granger, Professor of Practice at UNSW Business School agreed. “Stopping the thing you’ve passionately spent time building is hard for leaders. Knowing how and recognising when to move on requires solid leadership, and a future-focused strategy.”

Professor Granger is internationally recognised for her extensive experience in leading revenue administrations for governments. In the UK she successfully transformed Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) compliance and enforcement capability by implementing a digital strategy that impacted half the workforce (roughly 28,000 staff) and doubled its compliance revenues.

She believes success comes from being open to continuous learning, and staying in touch with how younger generations are thinking to be genuinely innovative. “You need to keep shaking yourself up as a leader. I’ve always had my personal office managed by people under 30 – they manage me, not the other way around,” she explained. “Part of that is they continually challenge me on how things should be done.”

Creating meaning from jargon and code

Another vital notch on a leaders’ tool belt is to become digitally fluent, understanding new digital technologies and understanding how they relate to their business.

All panellists agreed that curiosity and openness to expanding digital knowledge is key for leaders. “Even as researchers we can’t keep up as new technologies emerge,” said Professor Liming Zhu. “But the more you understand, the better your opportunity to become a co-inventor in creating technology solutions that meet your customers’ needs as you transform your business. You’re likely to find that what you need for your business could be very different to what the tech is actually doing.”

Wendy O’Keeffe believes leaders who also learn how to code will make themselves invaluable assets. “That unique IP is what companies need. Combining a technical skillset with critical thinking are two core assets an individual can bring to business transformation.”

Learning from best-practice

Reframing digital transformation challenges into opportunities is one of the core teachings of AGSM’s Short Course Leading Digital Transformation. Drawing on the experiences of successful transformations and investigating live case studies, participants will learn from industry leaders and business practitioners, as well as academics who have been there, done that and can share best-practice approaches to digital transformation.

“There’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution for any one organisation, so analysing and understanding the journey of businesses who’ve already had success in digital transformation is invaluable for creating your own strategy,” said panel moderator, Sanjay Verma.

The five-day course is broken into a three-day and a two-day module. As a participant, you will strengthen your digital knowledge, gain insights into your industry and where your business is sitting, and discover your digital imperative – where you must take action. You’ll participate in a wide variety of activities including scenario modelling, war-gaming and facilitated panel discussions.

Most importantly, you will walk away with a well-rounded transformation strategy for your business, giving you the confidence to lead an innovative change.

Learn more about Leading Digital Transformation and other AGSM short courses.