My TED Talk: Leading in the Digital Era

CharleneLi_TED

I crossed an item off my bucket list when I gave a TED Talk at TED@IBM on Sept. 23rd. The event was part of the new TED Institute, which partners with companies to create TED-curated events.

The title of my talk was “Giving Up Control: Leading in the Digital Era”. One key data point from Gallup that continues to astound me is that worldwide only 13% of people are engaged in their work. It’s higher in the US, standing at 30% but that’s still terrible!

I believe that a big reason for this is that we don’t give enough autonomy to, and respect the growing agency of our employees, especially for the Millennials who crave purpose and meaning in their work. The hierarchies that exist in our organizations were designed for a bygone era where efficiency and scale were paramount. But today, speed, innovation, and creativity are the sources of competitive advantage.

Companies have been responding, deploying collaboration platforms and enterprise social networks to connect people throughout the organization. Shrinking the distance between previously siloed departments, or between executives and the front lines sounds great — unless you’re a middle manager.

The biggest problem leaders face in the digital era is that power and influence are being decoupled from titles and organizational structure. So how can you be an effective leader? Here are the three things that organizations can do:

  1. Create a Culture of Sharing. Instead of hoarding information to be powerful, leaders have to become facilitators who accelerate the sharing of information across a networked organization.
  2. Encourage the Practice of “Followership”. The size and quality of your network, not your title, determines how much power and influence you have, and thus, how much you can get done. If employees could build their “followership” across the organization and even outside the organization, then even if their titles or jobs changed, they could still be highly effective. This creates tremendous security that allows these managers to make tough decisions that might otherwise jeopardize their livelihood.
  3. Ensure Networks are being used to Make Meaningful Decisions. People are smart — they won’t devote time to engaging unless they know it’s going to make a difference. The biggest mistake I’ve seen organizations do when trying to transition into the digital era is to use these new tools to create the equivalent of a digital water cooler — talking rather than getting work done. No wonder they don’t last! Get leaders to pay attention, make key decisions on these networks and people will come.

What each of these has in common is the need to give up control. In the talk, I shared the journey I’m going through as the parent of teenagers, as they push for greater autonomy and trust to make their own decisions. In our work, if we truly want to have an engaged workforce, then we’re going to have to lead differently, and establish a new kind of relationship and trust that’s created and deepened with these digital tools.

I’ve embedded the slides and script of my talk below. In a few weeks, the video of my talk will be available and I’ll embed that here as well. I hope you find these materials helpful in your journey to become a leader in the digital era.

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people in the information spaceTen years ago today, I wrote my first blog post, entitled “Blogging as a State of Mind”. I still vividly remember the moment — my palms were sweating as I pressed the “Publish” button on my Typepad blog for the first time. I was excited, but nervous about what was going to happen. What would people think? What if I made a mistake?

What happened was that I became completely transformed by the interactions and relationships of people I’ve met through my blogging and subsequently, social media activities. I’m eternally grateful to everyone who has encouraged, supported, and engaged with me — I have grown and learned so much. [Read more…]

Apple Watch: Transforming Apple into a Luxury Fashion Retailer

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To date, merely owning an Apple iPhone or iPad says something about who you are. With only a few choices on colors (black, white, neon, etc.), the only way you could customize Apple products to suit your style was to entomb their beauty with covers and cases. These items lived in the back of the store, hung up as general merchandise and an add-on to the core experience of the products. [Read more…]

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If you are involved in any shape or form with content marketing, you know what a big headache it can be for your organization. It extends beyond the Marketing department — Sales can’t get detailed, localized information to salespeople in the field. The social team needs more granular, atomized content produced multiple times a day. Customer service spends excessive time tracking down information to find that it’s outdated. And even HR seeks out relevant content in its battle for top talent. And rarely is there a centralized group that leads a coherent content strategy for the organization.

Against this backdrop is a dynamic, ever-changing landscape of vendors — hundreds of vendors with more emerging every day. [Read more…]

How to Tell If You’re Just Dabbling with Digital

Digital transformation is hot — in a new Altimeter Report, “The State of Digital Transformation”, we found that 88% of organizations we surveyed said that they were undergoing a formal digital transformation effort, which Altimeter defines as “the re-alignment of, or new investment in, technology and business models to more effectively engage digital consumers at every touchpoint in the customer experience lifecycle.”

But the research found that only 25% had mapped their out the customer journey, while another 12% were in the process of a mapping effort and were awaiting results. What was striking was that 42% of respondents said that while they were not officially researching the digital customer journey they had made efforts to update those digital touch points with new social and mobile investments and initiatives. [Read more…]