Adopting a Digital Mindset in the Professional Body

Burke Turner
Atmosphere convenes the Professional Bodies Digital Leadership Summit, bringing together leaders from a range of sectors to discuss the implications in and around digital transformation and change within their organisations. This record is a distillation of a selection of the candid discussion, and is not intended to be absolute, nor arrive at an outcome. This capture is for the benefit of those who were unable to attend, and as a thank you to those who did attend and who shared their experience of leading change at their respective organisations. Our host on this occasion was the Royal Institute of British Architects. At an (actual!) round table with a window to the passersby at street level, housed within the RIBA’s stunning new building (a stone’s throw from the iconic 66 Portland Place), our delegates met under The Chatham House Rule to discuss the implication of digital on a more personal level with our special guest executive coach, Marcus Druen. Marcus Druen excels in assisting business leaders to better understand the impact of their decisions and behaviours. Marcus shared his experience, insights, and some stories from time spent with leaders facing challenges in and around digital, and his personal connection to membership organisations and the challenges faced in maintaining relevancy in a changing world. To set the tone, we were guided through an exploration of the following concept:

Understanding your Digital Leadership Shadow

Marcus led with an engagement exercise to get the room on their feet and the neurons firing. We played a game of “Yes, but..” versus “Yes, and..” where an innovative idea is explored through a verbal tennis match, with two very different outcomes. It’s an exercise that Marcus has written about on his blog at; it demonstrates the required comprehension of the power of exponential thinking when it comes to innovation. “Yes, but..” is a typical 20th Century management philosophy of risk aversion, while “Yes,and..” is what is required in a world of abundance and exponential potential; our digital world. The makers of Pokemon Go were certainly not hoping for linear growth in their user base. To become a digital leader is to understand the power of exponential foresight, in knowing that progress will accelerate.

Take risks. Prepare for turmoil. Think huge.

In an anecdote to illustrate the exponential growth that digital affords (thinking Moore’s law), Marcus referred to the Human Genome Project, the world’s largest collaborative biological project to date. This project set a truly herculean task of mapping the building blocks of our DNA within 15 years. (For those who are interested, the Wellcome collection at Euston Rd was where I was able to see one of the robotic medical sequencing machines used, as well as a paper copy of the DNA sequence; quite impressive to see) Ambitious goal, 15 years to achieve, several billion in public funding. Anecdotally, cries of scandal resounded when it was revealed at a press conference that the project had only achieved 1% percent of the goal, yet had consumed close to half the funding and time. Surely, this spelled disaster for the project. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, we understand that as soon as the process to identify the first 2 DNA sequences was established, the effort to achieve results can be squared to become 4, squared again to become 16, squared again becomes 256, squared again becomes 65,536, and so on through this exponential return on effort, the seemingly insignificant becomes the positively astounding. The project delivered its objective roughly 2 years ahead of schedule in 2003. The vision required for the Human Genome Project’s leadership, who knew to prepare for the results to come in an exponential fashion (while the resources were spent in a linear way) was truly inspired. So too must today’s leader understand the exponential potential of ideas in the digital world that we live and operate in. While the impact of a more digital mindset is exponential, so too is the impact of leadership behaviour far reaching and more instant than ever before.

Every digital roadblock starts with a decision in the boardroom.

Referencing a consulting experience at a construction company, Marcus explored the iceberg model of organisational management, where the tip, being visible above the water, represents the events that happen, such as workplace accidents. Naturally, the bulk of the ‘issue’ lies beneath the waves; upon descending into the darker depths we find behavioural patterns, leading to organisational structures (such as training, rewards, process, penalty) which themselves are a reflection of the mental models that exist in the minds of the board. Can these mental models be changed overnight? While the debate will continue, by changing the shape of the base of the iceberg, we can expect knock on effects to affect the shape and positioning of the iceberg that sits above the water. What the board decides is important will manifest itself in the attitudes and behaviours of the staff to have a real world implication; every workplace accident starts with a decision in the boardroom. What a business pays attention to manifests itself in what is rewarded and what is punished, and therefore the actions taken by people at all levels of the business. Therefore the question ultimately returns to: What do you, as a leader, role model in your behaviour? Which we can distill down to:

What is your digital leadership shadow?

Are you asking your teams to embed more collaborative ways of working in your business? Do you herald this revelation with an all staff email broadcast? Are you available to engage with your staff through the context in which suits them? Do you, as an organisation, claim to be digital and yet treat your members to a menu of products and services, (up to 2000 products as shared by one delegate) with little capacity for personalisation of the experience? Is your governance structure the only way that your members feel they can truly engage ? One example shared during the session detailed the number of non-executive committee members to be roughly equal to the number of staff. At times our governance structures, digital assets, and antiquated approaches to the customer journey are doing a great deal to put people off from joining. The shift in mindset away from digital as a channel and towards digital as an approach, as a means to capture the possible, as a way to ensure relevance into the future, is the challenge for leadership today. Increasingly, a mark of the potent leader within the membership organisation is the ability to leverage a digital mindset to grow the industry while serving a broader church than the paying members, and to lead the profession through whatever changes it must endure towards a state of increased relevance and impact. This event was a rare opportunity to engage with somebody outside of the professional body sphere who has worked with leadership teams at Microsoft, Allianz, RWE Germany, KPMG and Telefonica among others as well as being appointed a start-up business development mentor for Telefonica’s incubator program in London. Self labelling as a “change catalyst” and not a coach, this catalytic approach to change feels rather ‘digital’ in its inclusiveness and empowerment. A digital leader doesn’t need to fully understand the world they are operating in; rather they need to grasp the potential to discover what they don’t yet understand at an exponential pace, and support those around them to share in the discovery. For every problem is an opportunity struggling to be seen and heard, it just depends on how you choose to approach it. Will you say “Yes, but..” or will it be “Yes, and..”? Thanks to the delegates for their candid contribution to this content. Thank you to RIBA for hosting on this occasion. Marcus Druen works with Atmosphere to help business leaders to “get it” and drive change in their organisations. Digital dividends are realised by organisations that understand the potential and bring the right mindset to problem solving and leading change. To learn more about Atmosphere, the Professional Bodies Digital Leadership Summit, or our program of events, feel free to contact us.

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