Digital sustainability and the journey

Consider this: Amazon began as an online bookstore in 1994. Three years later it raised $US57 million at its IPO and during the decade that followed the business was transformed many times over.  

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Today, Amazon employs more than half a million people with their revenue topping $US60 billion. At the end of 2017 they will have been profitable for 11 straight quarters. 

"The speed at which society has embraced digital technology is breathtaking.”

It is, arguably, the most digitally sustainable company in the world. All this in just 23 years.

Google launched in 1996; Facebook 2004; Twitter in 2006; Instagram in 2010.

The first iPad was launched by Apple’s [then] CEO, Steve Jobs just eight years ago. Since then Apple has sold around 350 million units globally. The youth of these brands belies their dominance in contemporary culture.

The speed at which society has embraced digital technology is breathtaking. Less so, the speed at which our business leaders have understood and acted on building digitally sustainable organisations. 

Perhaps we are stuck on the old paradigm of organisational transformation being a destination. The factors for success (that frankly, we do not have) are replicated over time.

Many of our leaders, particularly those whose careers were formed in traditional companies, do not fully understand the ideas, strategies and actions which got them to where they are won’t get them to where they need to be as quickly as they need to get there.

Digital thinking is required – and by digital thinking I don’t mean people with technology expertise presenting ideas for others. 

Digital thinking

Those at the top of the most digitally sustainable companies – including those with traditional origins – understand that digital leadership needs to be at the core of the organisation.

Korn Ferry’s research indicates leaders across APAC are not yet digital-ready and risk derailing digital sustainability initiatives by perpetuating traditional ways of working.

The role of leaders in activating people to support change is pivotal. 

But first, leaders must personally transform their thinking if they are to inspire and engage others, and create a more open, agile and networked culture which improves performance.

Organisations need to move beyond seeing strategy and results in a binary way.

Digital leaders examine the business through multiple lenses and build open and networked teams who can innovate and adapt, according to the ever-changing needs of the business.


  • Know what you need versus what you have

Understand the capability your organisation needs to drive your success in a digital world and be forensic in understanding how well you have the capability you need to achieve it.

Understand the organisational enablers and inhibitors affecting their contribution.

  • Build the leadership to drive your strategy

Be clear about who are the core leaders to run your business versus those who can digitally transform your business.

Align and build leadership capability so that they can work in a more highly networked and agile way. 

Give transformational leaders the platform to impact change, innovate products and services, drive customer experience and implement new ways of working.

  • Create and align symbols of change

Create a clear culture that brings technological change into the domain of business. 

Value the core while creating an all-encompassing transformational culture that drives fail-fast innovation and collaboration with internal and external networks. 

Build a results-oriented culture that is grounded in both agility and discipline and focus.

Lindsay Every is a client partner and digital leader at Korn Ferry

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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