In the final entry of our three-part series on digital transformation, Google’s Courtney Rose shares how next-generation leaders deal with uncertainty. Part one focused on how organizational shifts help companies transform, and part two explored the role of a strong relationship between CMO and CFO.
In today’s turbulent times, the only certainty companies have is uncertainty. This can be challenging for organizations who strive to be digital first, as rapid industry shifts can easily pull their focus away from continuous innovation.
But some companies have figured out digital success. When we recently teamed up with Kantar to study how these companies navigated dynamic markets while preparing for the future, we saw a common trait: All had leaders who could boldly face the unknown and confidently change course at a moment’s notice. These leaders transformed the fabric of their organizations, cultivating open-minded, collaborative approaches that sparked innovation, and did it in the face of constant change.
Our research underscored that this type of next-generation leadership is defined by three behaviors that other companies can implement. The first is proactively operating outside traditional comfort zones. The second involves thinking cross-functionally, and the third focuses on elevating the strategic role of the board of directors.
Break from traditional comfort zones
During our research, many next-generation leaders said that building a digitally savvy organization requires CxOs to work outside their comfort zones by thinking broadly about their role and the role of the C-suite, and by responding to change through teamwork and creative problem solving. Our study showed that 70% of executives from digitally leading companies embrace an experimentation mindset, compared to 47% from digitally emerging companies.1
This collaborative mindset is key to leading effectively during uncertainty.2 Among the marketing executives we spoke to, 80% of those from digitally leading companies agreed that their organization’s most senior marketer is open to change, compared to 64% of those from digitally emerging companies.3 And leaders who combine traditional and nontechnical skills, like adaptability and intellectual curiosity, are in a better position to develop a culture of collaboration and respond effectively to constant change, particularly when it comes to marketing initiatives.
Seventy percent of executives from digitally leading companies embrace an experimentation mindset.
As one CTO said, “Change drives people nuts, but people who embrace it are the ones who can actually help us in the future.”4
Another way next-generation leaders help their companies stay flexible during uncertain times is by developing a holistic understanding of their entire organization and encouraging cross-functional teamwork. Executives who told us that their marketing leaders proactively monitored company initiatives happening in areas outside of marketing were also 32% more likely to say their company performed much better than their competitors in revenue growth.5 When leaders think cross-functionally, they create the opportunity for marketing, finance, sales, and IT teams to understand how each group’s operations impact the collective and how they can work together to drive growth and innovation.
We also learned that this cross-functional collaboration should extend to the leadership teams themselves. Among digitally leading companies, 70% of the CxOs we surveyed stated that support across the C-suite and the board of directors was critical to successful digital transformation. Just 46% of executives from digitally emerging companies acknowledged this level of leadership support.6
When senior leaders are aligned, they can offer their separate teams a clear, unified strategic vision and shared objectives.
When senior leaders are aligned, they can offer their separate teams a clear, unified strategic vision and shared objectives, which can serve as a North Star during volatile moments. They can also encourage greater cross-functional collaboration by removing hierarchy and helping employees further develop soft skills like communication, problem-solving, decision-making, and collaboration.
Elevate the board’s role
Beyond ensuring C-suite alignment and collaboration, company leaders can future-proof their organizations by building and supporting an active, engaged board of directors.
This starts by ensuring that the board consists of the right people. For example, 82% of marketers from digitally leading companies said their board consists of people who can play a contributing role in supporting digital transformation, while only 42% of marketers from digitally emerging companies made the same claim.7 On top of this, board members who are still active in their professions can provide valuable external perspectives, such as spotting pitfalls, challenging assumptions, and bringing fresh ideas to the table.
A board whose members are still active in their professions can provide valuable external perspectives.
Next, leadership must consider the board’s role in the wider organization. CxOs should encourage the board to move away from simple business signoffs and toward engaging with the company’s overarching strategy. In our study, 1 in 3 senior-level marketers said that the board should push leadership to think creatively and take meaningful risks.8 This can help ensure that the company remains focused on digital innovation during disruptive times.
While business leaders can’t control rapid changes in the market, they very much define how their organizations respond and whether they continue to innovate. Next-generation leaders have proven their resilience and flexibility by stepping out of their comfort zones, fostering companywide collaboration, and empowering boards of directors to take an active, valuable role in their companies’ overarching operations and strategies.