60 is the New 90 for Digital Leaders

All organizations have experienced changes at the senior leadership level, which create ripples throughout the company, particularly since they typically have specific responsibilities such as leading technology projects critical to the organization’s success.

Enter new leadership with a 90-day change plan that might not sync with progress made on such projects.

Digital Leaders Need to Listen and Then Go Faster

Researchers and practitioners seem to agree on the following regarding leaders in this digital age:

  • They need a faster plan as speed matters in today’s world;
  • They need to quickly utilize culture and relationships to further advance the organization, not themselves.

Sounds like common sense. Yet, we all have been there, starting out full speed ahead relying on our experience, only to end up making progress similar to the speed of the Titanic turning. Flexible speed, culture, and relationships, in tandem with experience, can move major technological projects forward without organizational disruption. But how?

Four Digital Leader Competencies That Lead to Faster Execution

A recent Harvard Business Review survey indicated almost 70 percent of senior executive respondents who had recently transitioned into new roles indicated a lack of understanding about cultural norms, practices and projects, as well as pace of change, as primary reasons for failure (Byford, Watkins, Triantogiannis, 2017). When asked what would reduce failure rates, they emphasized the following:

  • Quickly gather information to confirm or adjust the team’s composition and/or goals;
  • Listen to those directly connected to the project for awareness, issues and credibility to swiftly help solve problems or move strategic projects forward;
  • Align with all stakeholders to build support, understand how decisions are made and who has influence over decisions;
  • Engage the culture to get up to speed on the values and norms that define acceptable behavior, all while working to enhance or change it.

This seems pretty straight forward. Yet, the revelation here isn’t the content that the leader needs to change, it is the speed with which they go about the changes. Taking it one step further, research indicates companies needs hyperawareness, informed decision-making, and fast execution for success in the digital age.

We know leadership and the workforce both play huge roles in ensuring that a company executes with speed and excellence. Fast execution for workforce transformation hinges usually on two fronts: resources and processes. It is critical that new leaders develop a plan that leverages the existing workforce knowledge and best practice processes to move forward quickly without costing the organization more money with endless meetings and reworks. A famous rapper coined the term “Forty is the New Thirty” (Perez, 2011), meaning things one typically achieved at 40 years of age are the ‘norm’ of achievement now at 30 years of age. New leaders need to apply the same mindset to their leadership plans and rather than having 90-day change plans, make a difference in 60 days.

How to Achieve More Success in 60 Versus 90 Days

Since we are talking action, researchers suggest the following to create long-term value with limited resources, particularly utilizing a 60-day plan for faster results:

  • All organizations have a sense of purpose which serves as the North Star guiding every aspect. Leaders can utilize the company’s authentic purpose as a compass for emotional engagement with the workforce for continuous innovation and faster decisions.
  • Building and sustaining brand equity is critical for future growth, as it links customers to products. Leaders that create plans built around the connection between employees and customers can identify quicker with the culture and look at key projects through the brand lens.
  • Creating partnership and collaborative relationships can help with alignment and strategic vision, thus faster decisions, flexibility and help in executing the plan. Leaders need to pay attention to those who bring forth solutions — not excuses — and those who paint the realistic picture.
  • Customer retention can be easily factored into the condensed leadership plan. New leaders can quickly increase revenue and value through customer relationships, particularly since a two percent increase in customer retention can have the same effect as decreasing a company’s costs by 10 percent. Hence, new leaders make faster decisions based on what is best for the customer (Hoque, 2015).

Impact and Benefits of a 60-Day Leadership Plan

What are the benefits of a condensed 60-day leadership plan? Considering 83 percent of companies expect to have an “open” or “highly flexible” career model within the next three to five years, the very way we look at leadership development is changing. And I mentioned earlier that in addition to resources, processes are the other key factor in speeding up execution. New organizational principles and process redesign can and have to move from a hierarchical (do because we said so) approach to best practices (do because it is the best solution for our business), which will enable more shared values, transparent goals and projects, a freer flow of information and feedback, and rewards based more on skills and abilities, not positions or titles.

Leaders can truly give and receive feedback quickly, and make faster decisions. This condensed plan not only reduces time to success, but changes the culture and daily way of doing things for the organization, both which are good for the business in this digital age.

Words from a Very Wise Digital CEO

Digital leadership requires a shift in how leaders must think, act, and react. A recent study by Deloitte indicated 72 percent of organizations are developing new leadership programs focused on digital leadership (Bersin, 2018). What is digital leadership? Employees now want and deserve more technology in the workplace. I know from working with our customers that organizations want sooner versus later conversation-based systems, voice recognition, and chatbots to enable greater productivity and we are already looking to social networking systems for critical elements like onboarding, communication, and learning.

These changes require a different type of leader with a much faster plan of action and a vision for the future. SAP CEO Bill McDermott said:

“The pace of adoption has gone from 10 years to as little as a week. Adoption is so fast that the innovation cycle must be much faster for companies. With mobile enabling billions of users to be connected, a new technology like augmented reality or digital assistants can reach maturity at scale in one to two years. In the industrial and even in the internet economies, we had some modest buffer between early adoption and mainstream adoption. Today we don’t. It’s almost to the point where we have only two categories: early adopters and also-rans. Perfection can no longer be the enemy of ‘good is enough.’ It’s all about speed to innovation and differentiation. Companies that act with urgency will win.” (McDermott, 2017).

Your Turn to be Digital

I think it is safe to say that new leadership plans can and need to be condensed. We need different and fast leadership — now. Act and be digital in your leadership role and push your leaders to be more digital. Who knows what changes you might see in your organization, your life and our world as a result.


The best-run companies have two things in common: good leadership and talent that is connected to their company’s purpose to drive phenomenal results. Shatter old mindsets to turn HR into a data-driven powerhouse for the future of your workforce. Read the SAP executive study, “4 Ways Leaders Set Themselves Apart,” created in collaboration with Oxford Economics.


Dawn Runge is an executive HR advisor at SAP SuccessFactors.

References

  • Bersin, J. “Work Has Become Digital. What It Means for HR?” Deloitte Development, LLC. January 2018.
  • Byford, M., Watkins, M., and Triantogiannis, L. “Onboarding Isn’t Enough.” Harvard Business Review. May – June 2017.
  • Hogue, F. “The 7 Fundamentals of Sustainable Business Growth.” Fast Company. August, 2015.
  • McDermott, B. “A Discussion on Digital Transformation and the Future.” SAP Publication. June, 2017.
  • Perez, A., and Anthony, M. “Rain Over Me.” azlyrics.com. Planet Pit released June 20, 2011. Retrieved May 14, 2018.