The Evolution of Business Leaders Facing Industry 4.0

March 16, 2018 | Chris Caputo


The latest wave of digital innovation is set to fundamentally alter the way organizations around the world conduct business—internally and externally. The fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, is the compilation of digital, physical and biological systems through technology, distorting the previously clear lines between industries and the environments in which goods and services are sold.

The velocity of widespread digital transformation has made it significantly more difficult to navigate these changes within the workplace. Today’s most successful business leaders are breaking from traditional paradigms to lead their organizations towards continued prosperity in a digitized environment. With conventional executive roles under the gun with the advent of digital requirements and expectations, C-Suite leaders must embrace internal evolution and reskilling opportunities or risk losing power to digital natives.

Progression of the Digital C-Suite

The role of executives in choreographing digital transformation cannot be underestimated. In the past, leaders would leave technological change to the IT team with little involvement. But given the pace at which digital innovation is disrupting industries, C-Suite executives are feeling the pressure to rapidly evolve.

Many organizations have embraced this challenge by deploying apps, launching new websites and using data to make informed decisions. However, these efforts are often executed in departmental silos, resulting in ad-hoc projects. Without proper orchestration at the overall company level, even the best digital initiatives fail to get the attention and investment they deserve. Harvard Business Review recommends that a C-Suite takes ownership of the most critical initiatives, projecting the authority necessary to manage digital transformation.

Personality Traits of Innovative Leaders

To effectively govern digital projects and strategies, executives need not only a holistic view of digital threats and opportunities, but also the right personality traits necessary to lead transformation. Individuals in traditional C-Suite levels roles may not be digital natives, but soft leadership skills still remain paramount to success in Industry 4.0.

1.  Connected and Collaborative
The most effective leaders are able to break down communication barriers between departments to expose the best digital advantages for the entire company. The C-Suite may discover critical organizational and cultural changes are required to compete in a digital environment. Executives will have to learn how to communicate more technical strategies to stakeholders, employees and customers alike. The integration of new technology may instill internal fear, but the collaborative business leader can inspire confidence through the strategic communication of goals. Transparent communication of company-wide digital transformation will allow the traditional business leader to set clear objectives during the process.

2.  Agile and Adaptable
In an increasingly complex business world, C-Suites must learn how to embrace change and move quickly. A report from IMD highlights how essential agile leadership is in leading today’s technological revolution. Agile leaders must be open, willing to learn and open to seeking input from both inside and outside their organizations. An adaptable individual is not afraid to change their mind in front of their team when presented with new information. In a disruptive environment where traditional business rules no longer apply, leaders must be able to adapt—quickly—to any new, unexpected change with grace.

3. Ethically Responsible
Technology has created complex ethical gray areas. Today’s executive leadership must not only navigate the waters of economic and political influence, but also the emerging discipline of digital ethics. Accenture reports that 83% of US executives say trust is the cornerstone of the digital economy and business leaders need to demonstrate a dynamic, ethical approach to their employees, customers and society at large. With new data privacy regulations, such as the GDPR, coming in effect, a progressive ethical strategy will provide organizations with a sustained competitive advantage in a digital world.

4.  Digitally Fluent
Even the most established C-Suites must maintain a level of digital expertise to remain relevant in Industry 4.0. In the past, this know-how could be handed off to the CIO or IT team. Today, every C-Suite is encouraged to be knowledgeable about the latest technology trends affecting their business, market and industry. Today’s leaders need to consistently educate themselves to find the best technologies to keep both customers and employees alike happy and engaged before their competitors do. Professional development opportunities in digital are available through a variety of resources online, from research reports to podcasts, so even the busiest C-Suite can make time for continued education. 

5.  Fundamentally Human
Technology itself cannot exist without human ingenuity. It can be easy to internalize technology or data as the sole driver of digital transformation, but the people behind the evolution are the key to success. The digital C-Suite must keep the human element at the forefront of any successful digital strategy to be fruitful. From employees to customers, the digital experiences your organization creates must put humans first to maximize engagement and perceived value.

Change Starts at the Top

Industry 4.0 affects all industries on a global scale, and workplaces are experiencing a dramatic transformation like never before. Traditional leadership hierarchies are being challenged: only the most agile leaders willing to evolve will usher in sustained success in a digital environment. The arrival of Industry 4.0 has not replaced the need for strong organizational leadership. Change is a process that requires patience and persistence, but the C-Suite who plants the digital seeds within their organization will reap success if those initiatives are tended to properly.

So how can a change of this scale happen can the organizational level? The scope of executing large-scale transformation can overwhelm even the most disciplined leaders. Change management consultancies, like Falls Digital, enable digital transformations through proven, repeatable processes. Change management reduces risks inherent to change initiatives by creating a plan that considers all challenges up front. All of this occurs while the C-Suite remains the project owner, leaving more time for personal transformation in Industry 4.0.

Topics: Organizational Design Future of Work

About the Author
Chris Caputo

Chris Caputo is a strategic marketing technologist with over 20 years of BtoB, BtoC and agency experience. An accomplished strategic marketing leader, Chris has extensive experience architecting marketing communication plans, digital marketing roadmaps, user experience planning, and developing digital customer acquisition, conversion and retention strategies. Having led BtoB marketing departments for a variety of companies and digital agencies, Chris has developed a rounded set of skills that include a depth of multiple marketing disciplines (PR, Advertising & Direct Marketing) overlapped with Digital, Print and Broadcast channels.

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