It’s easy to describe the digital worker, and most people would do so in broadly similar terms: curious, connected, networked, informed and very interested in the usage of new technology. No doubt many of us would make strong parallels with the “millennial” generation too (also known as generation Y; those born between the early 80’s and early 00’s, whom frequently but not exclusively typify the digitally-savvy).

Digital workers are at the heart of the success of Digital Transformation (DT). Capgemini’s research with MIT’s Sloan Management Review (click here) identified that whilst the opportunity of DT is clear (78% of respondents felt it would be critical within the next two years) making it an essential business objective, many feel achieving the vision will not be easy. DT, like any organisational change, rests fundamentally upon engaging people; most crucially the digital–agnostic, or resistant. And for this, as with any change, leadership is key.

The digital worker expects a different kind of leader. And those that need to be encouraged to make the journey need to be led by someone already on that road. No organisation can join the ranks of the “digerati” without digi-leaders.

So what’s different about a digital leader?  “Followership”, the model that evaluates leaders action by their ability to get people to want to do what they want them to do, is not a new concept. In the digital world it goes much further.

Leaders should role model the use of digital tools. But simply reinforcing their importance or making token gestures isn’t enough. Leaders need to develop new competencies which underlie the use of these tools – for example sharing information, including some personal information, and being comfortable with openness. This isn’t easy, particularly as traditionally the corporate world has encouraged and rewarded the notion of “knowledge is power”.

Digital gives everyone a voice. Consumers, external stakeholders, pressure groups and employees. If employees are not connected on “official” corporate social networks then you can bet it is happening on external ones – and these might not even be private to your organisation. They expect their leaders to have a voice on these forums too.
The digital world provides a leader with a much bigger stage, and the opportunity to communicate quickly, at scale, and direct with the entire workforce. New tools including blogs, webinars, twitter and corporate social networks combine to create a way of communicating that is shorter, quicker, less gimmicky and as a result less formal than before. Work communication becomes more collaborative. Anyone can respond, and responses are visible to everyone. What connects with people in the digital world is a tone which is authentic, has integrity and makes an impact. Some people are naturally good at this, for others its represents a step change.

In order to follow someone, digital people need to connect with them. People who interact in social channels share significant parts of their life. This doesn’t mean employees want to see the CEO’s holiday snaps on facebook, but they do expect to know more about the person behind the title. This means effective digital communicators are comfortable disclosing a little more about their personal lives, and what they think and feel.

In a digital world, silence is a way of communicating. It might be understood to mean you don’t “get it”, or believe in the value of connecting with people across the organisation.
Digi leaders are comfortable in externalising their point of view, and in letting the world know what they are thinking, feeling and working on. This calls for greater transparency of information, and more comfort in shouting about your organisations strengths.

To make digital transformation happen, you need to engage and encourage the digerati within your workforce. But this starts from the top – you need to set an example and ensure the rest of your leadership team do so too.