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Developing Your Digital-Era Story and Why Your Organization Needs One

By Jim Kensok, VP, CIO & CSO, Avista Corp.

Jim Kensok, VP, CIO & CSO, Avista Corp.

While digital business disruption in the utility industry is moving forward at increasing speed, the core beliefs wired into our brains (no pun intended) often are not. Without conscious effort, leaders can quickly slip into old, comfortable and stagnant thinking—“yesterday's mindset”—about the development and use of technology in the utility industry. The fast-paced new reality requires a leadership style of continued improvement and a high digital awareness.

"Achieving any meaningful digital business change is a team sport. Once you begin to evolve your own digital-era awareness and story, work with your IT leadership team"

To truly challenge what has served you well in the past and overcome your learned bias requires the addition of external perspectives and brutally honest feedback. Seek out one or more challenge-partner mentors (digital and business) who do not think like you do to safeguard against a learned bias. Give them unconstrained permission to challenge your thinking, and be open to them making you feel uncomfortable. Could you be a challenge-partner mentor to a business colleague? I am fortunate to have a colleague, the Vice President of Customer Solutions at Avista, whereby we are challenge partners to each other. We work together to advance the company digital awareness to better serve our customers.

Continue challenging your core assumptions by creating a new story that changes the conceptual and, as importantly, emotional viewpoints surrounding them. What we have done and believed in for years will impact how we embrace the future with new technology. Bring your new digital-era story to life with examples, metaphors, and leading-indicator data points. The VP of Customer Solutions shares leading data points with me on customer trends so that we can refine our customer digital-era playbook.

Achieving any meaningful digital business change is a team sport. Once you begin to evolve your own digital-era awareness and story, work with your IT leadership team and then your business leader colleagues to continually refine their digital perspective and core digital beliefs.

Following are a few ways to work with your IT Leadership team:

1. Require each Team Member to have a Challenge-partner Mentor

A challenge partner mentor should be someone who is not an obvious choice. Another of my challenge partner mentors is the Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at Avista. He is an out-of-the-box thinker, challenges me without discouraging me, and provides a gateway to test my thinking by being a partner in new business development opportunities. I am a board of director “observer” for one of our subsidiary companies that focuses on predictive data science.

A challenge partner should:

Have a digital-era perspective
Be comfortable confronting conventional wisdom
Be someone you trust to help you develop
Challenge your thinking and make you uncomfortable without discouraging you

2. Give Yourself Time to Think

When starved of time to think, I am most susceptible to defaulting back to the comfort of yesterday's mindset.

To help develop new digital awareness, give yourself time to think. Set aside even short periods of time to examine your digital-era story, its underlying core beliefs, and the leadership actions that you want to take to bring your story to life.

3. Hold Team Sessions to Develop your Digital-era Story

In addition to your team, ensure a diverse mix of attendees, including digital natives, employees with less than six months at your company, external practitioners, and thought leaders. Begin by eliciting and listing core beliefs. Then flip each as a way to question core collective assumptions.

Explore with your team how the new digital-era story drives thinking and acting differently. Determine which core beliefs that served you well in the past need to be discarded. Once developed, ask your leadership team to apply and extend the enterprise-level digital-era story to their respective team's context.

4. Create Learning Opportunities:

Develop challenging experiential experiences for your team that also accelerate your digital business journey. Be creative, offering business leadership opportunities such as with subsidiary companies; have them lead business initiatives that support the digital-era company playbook. For example, one of our IT Directors is leading the “Value from Data” company strategy. He is the Chief Data Strategist that is tasked with adding new value through the use of predictive data science.

Infuse outside-in thinking and opportunities for firsthand experiences. Internally, seek collaborative assignments with a business area ripe for digital disruption or an emerging initiative with potential for breakthrough business outcomes. Avista is engaged in developing a smarter city. Several members of our IT team are leading initiatives that are keys to the success of the smarter city future. Support each learning opportunity with related education and your personal mentorship.

The need to build high digital awareness leadership is a journey, not a one-time event. A single lap around the track will not be sufficient, given the ongoing high rate of digital business change.

Regularly examine and challenge your (new) core beliefs and reframing perspective. Over time, developing your digital-era leadership and story will happen in ever faster and more refined laps. Each lap will help sharpen digital business leadership, maximizing IT business value contribution, and develop your high digital awareness leadership style.