Sunday, January 19, 2014

Digital Balance: How to Strike it Just Right

Like running up to the string, keeping digital balance is critical in reaching the digital high.

We are experiencing the dynamics of the most significant business transformation since the industrial revolution. The majority of us will work in an organization that is somewhere between old and new; at both industrial speed and digital speed; in the physical building and remote environment; or will remain to be a mixture of old and new. It is the biggest management challenge to be a change agent, where we respond to the current state of the organization and we try to take it from there to a next level. Just like running up to the string, the point is how to strike the  right digital balance?

1. The balance between long term vision and short term perspective

Companies today have huge pressures to survive and thrive at today’s hyper-competitive economical dynamic. Yes, businesses have to achieve certain financial targets quickly but they are, in many instances, unsustainable. It's not until we can make lasting process improvements to meet or exceed long-term goals. The digital normality-volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity may also bring certain ‘side effect” to decision-making and business management, such as:

  • Ambiguity effect – the tendency to avoid options for which missing information makes the probability seem "unknown” 
  • Bandwagon effect – the tendency to do or believe things because many other people do or believe the same 
  • Near-sight effect – the tendency to focus on short-term goals, because the future seems to be so hard to predict.   
A good leader is someone who doesn't lose the sight of long-term or 'Big picture' and spends the majority of his/her time, efforts, and resources on achieving the short term goals. The digital harbinger gives a balanced focus on achieving both short term and long objectives. The critical thing here is that short term goals should be aligned to the "big picture". An effective leader should be able to immediately ascertain which term would benefit the situation most as he or she becomes aware of each unique objective. 

2. The balance between ‘local’ and ‘global’

Because of classic management, the business units often do not work in collaboration, as they are driven by a culture of silos, they fight for the limited resource in order to do what they believe is “locally” right instead of working together in order to do what is “globally right”.  There are quite many silos in traditional industrial organizations:

  • Geographical Silos – arise with difficulty in collaborating when different parts of the organization are in different geographical locations. 
  • Project Silos - occur when best practice information isn’t shared between groups working in similar ways towards similar goals. 
  • Functional Silos – arise when there is uncertainty about peoples’ roles within an organization and lead to redundancy and feelings of under appreciation among members. 
  • Information Silos - exist due to barriers in sharing of information freely across the organization. 
Silos results in overlapping functions, increased costs, duplicated efforts and inconsistent decisions among entities. The digital leaders have to bridge both industrial silos and digital divide today; with emerging digital technologies, organizations can now have better opportunities to share best practice and next practice, the collective wisdom and cultural quintessential; it is true, deserts, mountain ranges, and oceans will no longer be the walls to connectivity & collaboration, it is strategic imperative to strike the right balance between local & global; to bridge the silo and think globally. 

3. The balance between digital speed and industrial speed

Majority of well-established companies today are running at both industrial speed and digital speed; the silo structures and legacy infrastructure limit the pace of their digital transformation, but every forward-looking organization also explores the new arena to speed up with digitalization;

 It’s from within the massive gray area between these two styles that movements like Management 3.0 come from, and help push this shift toward flatter hierarchies, and empowerment of employees, which in turn leads to the radical speed and efficiencies seen in agile companies today. Until business leaders come to terms with the reality that digital structure really are smarter and faster than ‘pure hierarchies’, managers who understand the paradigm shift have to find ways to resolve the manager’s paradox, to strike the right balance between digital speed and industrial speed, and to build optimized processes/capabilities in order to accelerate execution and create better business result. 

4. The balance between 'virtual worlds' and 'the human connection'

A hybrid nature of organization well mixes the virtual platform with the physical functional structure to enforce cross-functional collaboration and dot-connecting innovation. The impact of digital/social technology is right on- that the future of the organization will become more ‘virtual’ and that virtual organizational design expertise will become more important in the coming years. But deep human connection may still be important, and the connection is not only just about physical touch, but more importantly as an emotional connection. While technology provides new frontiers for work systems, there are also challenges with issues of human 'connectivity'. What's intended to bring us closer together may leave us feeling further apart. 

Therefore, bridging the paradoxical gap between virtual workforce and the human touch; between digital strangers and a growing workforce of digital natives is the single most important management task for today’s managers. The successful managers are those who resolve this paradox by learning how to navigate the digital divide skillfully, and keep balance upon digitalization and manageability.

5.    The balance between the standardization and flexibility 

Agility is a competitive capability to keep businesses strive at digital age; agility is the strategic mix of standardization and flexibility, targeted at those organizational pressure points where they’re not only needed today but will most likely be needed tomorrow. In order to survive and thrive amid constant change, companies must reclaim the right balance of standardization and flexibility and build strategic and operational agility into their business foundations. By developing a business agility blueprint—a shared view of an organization that promotes deeper understanding of core processes, risks, and transformational opportunities—business leaders can approach change confidently

In an era in which every tweet has the potential to plunge a company into a global reputational crisis, the demands for corporate transparency are unprecedented.It's so easy to focus on the bad. It's so easy to see faults and mistakes, instead of seeing the positives, recognizing good and bringing those to light. Thus, today’s digital leaders have to balance the optimistic spirit and cautious attitude; balance openness and standardization; balance discipline and flexibility; and balance effectiveness and efficiency.

How to strike the right digital balance is critical to digital transformation, it takes both strategic planning and tactical mechanism; and it has to well align the right talent, the optimized process, and the effective technology in order to reach the next level of digital high.


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