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5 Digital Trends Impacting Leaders

By Jennifer Pesci-Kelly and Evan Sinar

At exactly 9:05 a.m. U.S. Pacific Time on May 31, 2017, Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends 2017 report was publicly released, just as Ms. Meeker stepped to the stage to share the slides at a keynote presentation at the Code Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.

This annual report, now in its 22nd year, has been called, “the best way to get up to speed on everything going on in tech,” “a fascinating and influential presentation on the state of the web,” and, “so rich in stats and ideas that Silicon Valley can’t get enough of it.” This report is all about speed—speed to market, transformational speed, and that vital acceleration point past competitors.

Digital moves the needle that fast. Needless to say, despite its 355-slide heft, it’s well-worth the read for anyone working in a business environment being reshaped and disrupted by technology, which is pretty much everyone.

For all the report’s merits, the extensive data it summarizes can be pushed even further to capture the context and pressures of business leadership, now and in the foreseeable future.

tech trendsDespite the report’s title, the trends cited don’t just deal with the internet, and not even just with technology. They define the commercial, customer, and competitive reality that every leader (and the employees they manage) works within, whether they know it yet or not. If a leader’s not already encountering the challenges of keeping up with and keeping ahead of the trends described in the report, they will be soon, and they’ll need to move even faster to catch up.

From the full report, we’ve distilled five key themes for leaders, each with accompanying Business Evidence: why the theme is critical to the workplace, and our projections for the Leader’s Role: how leaders need to act now on the theme’s implications before they’re overtaken by them.

1. Listening for the Voice of Your Future Consumer

Reference: KPCB Internet Trends Report 2017 slides 49-79

Business evidence:
User-generated content, curated experiences, user design input, and personalized retail are driving decision-making. Brands can’t afford to ignore the voices of their customer and reverberations coming from the market when it comes to demand. Customers have moved into the driver’s seat as social channels shift from being echo chambers to storefronts.

The data show that consumers’ wallets are open and opening even wider (retailers can expect 4% growth this year) they are just selecting those outlets that cater to their needs and provide an exceptional, high-convenience experience.

Leader’s Role:
If you’re not already tapping the voice of your market, start now and help others see the value of doing so. This varies from customer interviews to social listening to digital body language and will steer decision making in ways you haven’t even considered.

The access to information and user-generated data has accelerated customers’ ability to make decisions faster and provided them with a vast array of choices that weren’t there just a few years ago. Their peers are sharing the best ideas with them, and they’ll go with the crowd.

Reputation, agility, and market readiness will be the drivers. Immerse yourself in the habits of your customers and your next generation of customers to start anticipating where you need to be 12 months from now, and build to that.

2. Winning in a Gamified Workplace

Reference: KPCB Internet Trends Report 2017 slides 80-102

Business Evidence:
The influence of gaming—to optimize learning and engagement, as a performance accelerator, and integral to millions of current and incoming employees’ lives (spanning ages and genders to a surprising degree)—can no longer be dismissed as a fringe or “playtime only” influence. Gaming technology and the Big Data it gathers have also honed user experiences for immersive storytelling, puzzle solving, complex planning exercises, and reinforcement learning.

These experiences in turn translate to their expectations as consumers and employees. With few corporate products and services untouched by technology, games and gaming techniques are core building blocks for appreciating and continually improving the customer experience.

Leader’s Role:
Technology-delivered games have mastered the science of rapid, achievement-centric, and, yes, addictive learning. These same approaches can become a vital part of a leader’s arsenal for growing agile employees: modern learners across generations who will thrive in the future business environment.

Gamification principles under a leader’s control—frequent, data-driven feedback, access to stretch assignments, and coaching for success—are also perfectly-suited for eliciting a state of employee “flow,” a powerful and absorbing motivational state at the intersection of high challenge and high skill (see slide 90 of the Internet Trends Report).

For more information about the concept of flow in a leadership context, read this article from DDI’s Challenging Thinking series, which talks about flow’s benefits, risks, and triggers.

3. Adopting Wearables for a Constant, Personal Data Feed

References: KPCB Internet Trends Report 2017 slides 294-297 (wearables), 308-309 (digital health)

Business Evidence:
Prototypes of wearable computers have been evolving for two decades now, but as technology has caught up the adoption of these devices have skyrocketed, making some brands a household name and leading more manufacturers to enter the game.

With one out of every four Americans owning a wearable now, tracking steps will soon be as pervasive as checking the time. This translates into more insight into a healthy lifestyle, something that ultimately hits the company’s bottom line: workplace health programs notably impact a wide range of health and financial outcomes, and programs providing more frequent information tend to be more effective, which is a key feature of the real-time data wearables offer.

Leader’s Role:
You can’t ignore this quest for both a healthier lifestyle and more data to make it happen. Some employers are using trackers as motivation tools and rewards while others are just creating cultures to support healthier lifestyles.

As a leader, making or breaking the culture is in your control, so follow the lead from the team and give them the tools (like standing desks, walking meetings, and more breaks) and space to pursue a more health-conscious workday.

4. Solving the Talent + Technology Equation

References: KPCB Internet Trends Report 2017 slides 118-130 (improving performance), and 146-150 (leadership and innovation)

Business Evidence:
Many companies, regardless of industry, already consider themselves technology companies—and those that don’t should. Digital transformation has reshaped nearly every aspect of their business and that reality has to sink in.

With this realization comes a heightened focus on tech-savvy talent, requiring leaders to boost their own digital readiness while also steering others through rapid change, even for facets of technology about which the leader has little personal know-how.

No leader can be expected to master every technology their company uses, but they will be required to assemble a full digital puzzle by knowing where each piece of technology used by their business unit fits, when to switch to newer technology, and which of their employees need to gain and maintain the necessary expertise to make the interconnections work.

Leader’s Role:
Key among new leadership responsibilities is an ability to match employees to the digital technologies that will help them perform best, maximizing the yields of human-computer interaction by gauging what both parties will bring to each pairing. With emerging research showing that face-to-face and digital skills are fundamentally different, many old models for identifying and developing employee skills no longer apply.

For example, with the rise of virtual teams, leaders should overhaul success profiles for employees working with others exclusively remotely beyond traditional forms of collaboration and communication. For many roles, employee and technology inputs will be tightly entangled, making some employees stronger alongside technology and others—initially and at times permanently—weaker.

To manage and accurately reward performance, leaders must know where an employee’s contributions end and the technology’s begins. And, if technology changes faster than an employee’s ability to adapt, when does the leader step in to find either a path to develop the necessary knowledge or an alternative technology that IS a better fit?

5. Plugging the Security Holes of Disengaged Employees

Reference: Slides 189 through 192

Business Evidence:
Despite corporations spending nearly $100 billion to secure their technology systems, cybersecurity risks remain sky high, with employees a primary target for these attacks. Many such techniques rely on exploiting employee vulnerabilities through “social engineering” or outright carelessness. Accordingly, spotting and proactively closing employee risk points is near the top of every technology department’s agenda.

Without an escalated action plan, companies will find themselves inadvertently exposing company secrets and highly sensitive customer information, and potentially incurring debilitating costs, public relations crises, and data loss associated with “ransomware” attacks—a new form of cyber-threat which increased 6,000% in 2016 alone and now exceeds $1 billion in annual corporate expense.

Leader’s Role:
The massive, enterprise-threatening consequences of security risks are far too severe for leaders to have only vague awareness of this new business reality where every employee is a potential door for hackers to knock on or kick down. Nor is it enough anymore for leaders at any level to consider technology risks as merely “IT’s problem.”

Leaders must raise their own sophistication to become models and vocal advocates for secure technology use. They must also recognize that slippage in employee engagement cascades directly to poor vigilance about new security vulnerabilities. A more engaged workforce is a more watchful workforce, less likely to fall prey to an ever-growing assault of hacking, phishing, and ransomware attempts.

Five Lessons from 355 Pages

The Internet Trends report is just a snapshot of what can be learned about where business is going, where leaders must take them, and how technology will shift and push the way we interact with customers and teams.

While the speed of technology will continue to challenge the way we think about leadership, it’s a two-way street. Leaders from all functions have a responsibility to proactively gauge and shape the influence of technology on their businesses, as well.

Technology trends and leadership trends have never been more tightly intertwined.

Evan Sinar, Ph.D.Evan Sinar, Ph.D. is the Chief Scientist and Vice President of the Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research (CABER). Evan is the lead researcher for the Global Leadership Forecast 2017|2018 and is a frequent author and presenter on leadership assessment and development, talent management analytics, data visualization, and workplace technology.

Jennifer Pesci-KellyJennifer Pesci-Kelly spent more than a decade in the leadership industry and now the Director of Advancement Communications for Carnegie Mellon University. 



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Posted: 23 Jun, 2017,

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