Three Leadership Challenges For Digital Leaders in MedTech

New skillsets and mindsets for a digital age

Leaders who are successful at driving digital transformation often have a very specific set of leadership capabilities. These include:

  • Intellectual curiosity and desire to learn and continuously improve
  • Humility and willingness to accept they don’t know all the answers
  • Ability to look beyond execution today and contemplate a different future

They also need to be able to meet these three key leadership challenges that will define the future digital success of organizations across all industries.

1. Overcome resistance to change

Moving from traditional to digitally enhanced medical products is a significant organizational shift. Many employees will be reluctant to make the changes required because they will not see anything wrong with the legacy products. Why risk severe disruption to the business as usual if the business seems fine as it is?

This is where effective leadership is most needed. Those at the top must make the case for transformation and ensure all employees understand why change is not just desirable but essential. What is more, every member of the leadership team needs to commit to it, or the message will be undermined.

2. Create a culture where people can fail

Failure is an integral part of digital innovation. It enables recalibration during the early stages of development, resulting in more robust solutions that better meet customer needs or patient outcomes. To drive innovation, leaders therefore need to cultivate a workplace culture where employees can experiment and fail.

This is not as easy as it sounds. Many employees have learned the hard way that mistakes can cost them a promotion, a pay rise or even their job. The aversion to failure is deeply ingrained. In many companies, people are afraid to kill projects in case it reflects badly on them. Pureplay technology companies like Google, on the other hand, are typically very good at trying and assessing new ideas. Failure doesn’t affect you as an individual. If a project is killed, you just move on to the next one. Too often, projects continue getting funded because people don’t want to take the potentially career-damaging step of killing them. Instead, they should be free to try out and assess ideas, knowing that if they fail it won’t affect them or their career personally. This is a big shift for many companies.

3. Leading through others

As MedTech companies gradually evolve into more software-focused companies, they will require more specialist leaders and more project-based work as well as the ability to engage across a broader spectrum of capabilities or divisions than in the past. In this new set-up, the ability to lead others through a matrix set-up becomes absolutely critical.

“You have to let go of this control mindset that everything that you deliver is under your control,” said Simon Cartmell, a board member of MatOrtho, NuvoAir, Axis Spine Technologies, as well as Chairman of OssDsign and Oviva. “The real power is if you pull from others. That means you also need to collaborate and become dependent on others, which is not something that people feel always very comfortable with. So it’s a shift in mindset and in how you organize for success. Influential leadership – leading through others – is incredibly important. The leadership from the top through to your middle management is fundamental to the company you will become.”

How do you ensure your organization’s leaders have the skillsets and mindsets needed to meet the challenges of digital transformation? Start by focusing on the leaders of tomorrow. Whether you “buy” them from other organizations or “build” them from within, new leaders bring new perspectives that make transformation easier for everyone.

“People who are my vintage can be skeptical about these changes,” said David Floyd, a board member of HOPCo, and Merit Medical Systems, Chairman of Corin and External Advisor to Bain & Company. “Some of the changes deserve skepticism, but you also need imagination. The management team needs a certain amount of youth, especially in marketing and R&D. These are people who grew up with different perspectives on tech, and they just see things that I don’t. One way of doing this is ‘reverse mentoring’, which is taking functional leaders and having them learning from younger managers.”

What does large-scale digitization mean for healthcare and beyond? Understand the opportunities and challenges ahead in Welcome to MedTech 3.0.

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