MIT researcher's warning for Australian business leaders

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Business leaders with mature digital transformation programs were able to propel themselves forward when the pandemic hit, accelerating innovation, according to one of the co-authors of an MIT CISR study into future ready workforces. 

But that same study held a warning for Australian business leaders. Their organisations were seriously over represented among the laggards, and almost completely missing in action amongst the leaders. 

In her keynote address (watch it at the start of this story) for iTnews Digital Nation, a series looking at the digital fitness of Australian organisations, MIT CISR researcher Kristine Dery described the effect of the pandemic on transformation as like a "wormhole” – a portal that drags us from one state of being into another. 

According to Dery, leaders that were more advanced in their digital transformation agendas “were using the wormhole to propel themselves.” 

“So, they're embracing this opportunity and they're moving much faster than ever before, towards creating this future ready workforce,” Dery said. 

Dery’s research across 1,300 organisations revealed that the top 25 per cent of companies, measured in terms of revenue growth and net margin, were much more effective at linking their company vision with supporting mechanisms. 

“They were very clear about the vision itself, very clear about some of the metrics, and then constantly iterating to ensure that the work that was being done and the way people were working was moving towards those,” said Dery. 

The companies that successfully digitised their work were able to reimagine their processes to deliver better experiences for employees and better outcomes for customers. 

This focus allowed for creative breakthroughs in untapped new working environments which, according to Dery, encouraged creativity, curiosity and improvisation. 

“We're getting what I call freedom in a framework,” Dery said. 

“People understand the rules of the game, they understand what it is they're trying to do – again that clear link to the vision – they have the data and capabilities to do that. But now they're able to become much more creative, and therefore deliver value in ways that we would never have been able to imagine before.” 

Watch our fireside chat with iTnews Digital Nation keynote speaker, MIT CISR's Kristine Dery, above.

Companies that were not flexible or open to changing their business-as-usual approach suffered as a result, and missed many of the opportunities that were open to agile organisations.  

The data showed that 58 per cent of Australian companies are in the passive recipient category, the lowest level in the study, in which employees have necessary technologies but aren’t empowered to be more active decision makers. This revealed a lack of progress towards enabling a future ready workforce. 

Hostage to heroics 

“What we're seeing and particularly that was evident when you look at that Australian data was that these companies that are investing a lot in learning and development programs, really upskilling for digital, but at the same time, not leveraging or not provisioning their people with the technologies that they need, are finding that we're getting pockets of capabilities in the organisation,” Dery said. 

“That's very difficult to leverage and scale right across the enterprise.” 

Read more about the MIT CISR research in our feature story, which is part of the iTnews Digital Nation series.

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