Digital Leadership: Lessons from the BlackBerry crumble

by | Jul 10, 2012 | News

Simon Hayward from Cirrus writes for People Management

BlackBerry was once the leader in the corporate smartphone market. However shares in the phone’s manufacturer Research In Motion (RIM) have fallen by around 70 per cent over the past year and analysts are universally pessimistic about its future. The company has announced it is to cut 5,000 jobs and will delay the launch of its next-generation BlackBerry 10 software until 2013.

BlackBerry has struggled to keep step with increasing competition from Apple’s iPhone and a host of devices based on Google’s android mobile operating system. It is not the first market leader to lose market share so dramatically to its competitors. Brands such as Hoover and Kodak once defined their markets. However, like BlackBerry, they failed to innovate as fast as their competitors.

What can leaders in organisations do to help people innovate and focus on new opportunities before their competitors do?

Organisations everywhere need to be agile and inventive to survive in an volatile world. They need to be quick to take advantage of new opportunities – opportunities that often cannot be predicted. The need for innovation is heightened for organisations operating in a digital environment.

What does this mean for leaders working in a digital world of accelerating unpredictability? I’ve spoken to a lot of leaders in this environment, and looked at a wide range of studies and articles looking at digital leadership, and four main themes emerge very clearly. They represent key challenges for leaders working in IT and internet-based businesses. They are also relevant to many other industries such as retail, banking, and publishing, which are experiencing a significant digital challenge.

First of all, leaders need real insight. They need to listen to what is going on around them, to learn and adapt to changing customer and technological environments.

Secondly, they need focus. Resources need to be effectively targeted to create advantage and increased value for customers.

Leaders also need speed. The most successful digital leaders have a pioneering spirit and make rapid decisions and execute strategy, build capability and respond to changing circumstances with a combination of astute data analysis and human intuition.

Finally, connection is absolutely critical. In a digital world, human relationships and collaboration are key. Leaders need to connect both with colleagues inside the organisation, and with customers, competitors, commentators and wider communities beyond it.

RIM is an example of an organisation where leaders need to act with real speed if they are to save the business. It may be time to combine that speed and agility with additional insight and renewed focus. RIM’s leaders, like all leaders experiencing tough times, need to connect increasingly effectively – with their employees, customers, the media, and external stakeholders. People need to understand what’s going on.

It looks like the only way BlackBerry can successfully survive is to reinvent itself as a very different company. Maybe it can. Others have done it before. Look at IBM. Once renowned as the world’s leading provider of mainframe and PC hardware and software, the company found itself losing its virtual monopoly to competitors who were quicker to seize new opportunities. IBM’s innovative leaders averted disaster by transforming the company into a global services business and technology integrator.

Your organisation may not be a digital specialist, but whatever business you’re in, our increasingly digital environment is having a big impact on how you operate. It is altering your competitor landscape, redefining your marketplace, and changing the way your customers interact with you.

Some of us can be clearly defined as ‘digital leaders’. All of us can benefit from developing digital leadership skills. Learning how to combine insight, focus, speed and connection can help us become more adaptable, more agile, and more successful in a fast-moving and unpredictable world.

Please click here to read Simon’s article on the People Management website.

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