Why you should care

Because companies that don’t embrace digital could risk being left behind.

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Digitization is one of those things that polarizes people — inducing either wide-eyed excitement or frozen-hearted fear. But, whether you’re an early adopter or cautious follower, optimist or pessimist, the reality is that the future is digital, and companies quite literally cannot afford to get left behind.

The Harvard Business Review reports the most digitally advanced parts of the U.S. economy are boosting profits by two to three times the average rate. And, as a recent Ernst & Young report put it: “The real imperative in a world where ‘everything’ is digitized is that businesses need to pursue innovation to disrupt their own business model — before the competition does.”

Digital transformation isn’t a question to ponder. It’s a necessity. But, for many employees and even managers, it’s also frightening.

As the Head of Leadership Development at JPMorgan Chase, I get the opportunity to guide our global network of managers on how to lead our own digital transformation. If we get it right, we can improve the working lives of more than 240,000 employees — equipping them, and our business, with the skills required to prosper. But with increasing complexity and so much changing so quickly, it can be easy to lose sight of how to manage the people behind the technology.

Here are five rules to help colleagues adjust to the digital era:

1. Be a human

Though you are dealing with technology, the core fundamentals of what makes a good leader remain the same. Understanding the people you work with, treating them with respect and developing talent are crucial. You achieve this through the level of humanity and humility with which you lead.

2. Always embrace change

Given the speed of change brought about by developing technologies, leaders will need to make decisions even when they don’t have all the information. Being ready and willing to disrupt the status quo and adopt new things is how businesses today stay current. Be on top of developing trends, but also be willing to listen to your team.

3. Encourage diversity of thought

Exposing your team, and yourself, to a broad range of outside ideas and concepts is pivotal. People with broad networks both inside and outside their organizations tend to drive more innovation for that reason. Developing cutting-edge ideas is much harder if you stay within a bubble.

4. Explain why each individual is important

Though it’s a stereotype of millennials that they want to feel “special,” the truth is, most people don’t just want to clock in and clock out — they want to feel like they are contributing something important. Take the time to tell team members about how their work links to an overall higher purpose. Being part of a bigger picture motivates people to play their part.

5. Don’t have all the answers

Work doesn’t get done by individuals; it gets done by teams. And the best way to build a high-performance team is to give everyone a chance to find answers — listen, empower and encourage people to experiment and take risks. Don’t make anyone feel bad for failing; “fail fast and learn fast” is a good mantra.

A sobering thought to end on: According to research by McKinsey, 90 percent of lagging companies invest less in digital than their counterparts.

The digital transformation is happening. Your only question should be this: How can we make sure we’re a part of it?

Inger Buus is head of leadership development at JPMorgan Chase.