Digital transformation means little without leadership

September 15, 2021


As the world continues to grapple with the challenges of an evolving pandemic, digital transformation presents organizations with a historic need for resilient leadership that can turn ideas into action and lead people to a better future with empathy

The benefits of digital technologies are well documented. Yet, the real competitive advantage for an organization lies in how well-equipped its people are to get the most out of the digital tools they are given. This journey requires curiosity, enthusiasm, and nuanced leadership: technology is merely an enabler – not an end in itself. 

If digital transformation is as much about changing habits, skills, and behaviors, it definitely also means transforming how we engage with employees and how we foster innovation. A starting point must be to shift leadership away from a hands-off autocratic model towards one that is hands-on, humble, empathetic, and curious. 

It is arguable that with such a sudden and unplanned shift to remote working as we’ve encountered, empathy and building trust have never been so important. For large organizations that may have been making progress in their digital transformations before COVID-19, the unexpected (and enforced) isolation of employees came out of nowhere. 

Adapting to a crisis

Immediate questions are raised: how do we make sure our employees are psychologically happy and in the right frame of mind to work? How can we ensure that the new digital tools we have invested in are doing what they were intended to do in the context of a pandemic? And how do we know that our people are using them to their own benefit: to work smarter in a new world of professional separation?

Meeting the needs of employees in the middle of a crisis requires, perhaps more than anything else, agility and an understanding that in isolation, human beings are subject to a significant changes in their daily circumstances and frame of mind. 

A dedicated employee may perform well in the first week of remote working, but how do we react by the end of week four, or six months down the line? Do we have the tools as leaders to deliver the nuanced support our colleagues may need? Are we able to guide employees through digital transformation from afar, and can we create new connections without physical proximity? Are we able to challenge ourselves and change our own modus operandi when old ways fail? Part of the solution lies in letting go.

If we can leave behind old ways of working – with an open mind – we can lead the enthusiastic adoption of new digital tools and raise awareness of the benefits of digital transformation. When we are emotionally and professionally invested in the digital tools ourselves, we can lead their widespread adoption so that we deliver the customer journey that our digital strategies are intended to create. This is crucially important.

Collaboration and inclusivity

We must establish and nurture human connections if we are to achieve the corporate goals we set out – and if we are to make the social and economic impacts that we strive to achieve. For an organization like Mastercard, this means bridging the digital divide and contributing to inclusive growth through innovation, technology, and a human-centric approach. 

However, driving this level of change in the context of a global human crisis requires sharp focus and dedicated execution. If we are to guarantee that the customer reaps the rewards of the innovations that Mastercard delivers, we as leaders have to understand our teams and their unique circumstances and challenges: so that they, in turn, can utilize the tools we have created to stay close to our customers. 

This is important because when deployed to their full potential, digital payment solutions can instantly solve a customer or merchant pain point and, in doing so, unleash growth potential and opportunities. It is clear that, as we navigate a new world, we have a new opportunity to spearhead inclusive growth by reaching the financially underserved – but this requires a collaborative and bold approach. 

By adapting how we lead, we can foster an ecosystem that makes a measurable, positive impact on the communities we serve. Through partnerships, technologies, and robust leadership, we can make the digital transformation work for everybody, help to close the digital divide and make the world a more inclusive place.