Perspectives

By Walker, James W. | Human Resource Planning, March 2000 | Go to article overview

Perspectives


Walker, James W., Human Resource Planning


E-Ieadership?

Much has been said about leadership development. And, as the saying goes, "when all is said and done, more is said than done." So what new dimension does the emergence of e-business add to our discussion? Simply, building successful enterprises requires highly effective leadership of rapid business change. The pressure is intense for capable leaders with the ability, passion, and courage to build enterprises that will prosper in the Internet economy. While leadership development may be difficult in e-businesses, certain practices seem to match their unique organizational requirements.

* A company is an e-business when Internet-based activities are the primary source of its revenues and profits. Whether providing retail e-commerce, business-to-business (B2B) services, or infrastructure, an e-business leverages the Internet to gain competitive advantage through improved costs, pricing, and customer satisfaction. It links product, pricing, and design information with customers and suppliers. E-business is the core business model and culture of the enterprise.

* Among the thousands of e-businesses created each year, many are evolving into emerging growth companies and are striving to become large, profitable, dynamic businesses. Amazon.com, Qualcomm, Sun Microsystems, Dell, Cisco, and Microsoft are among the role models for growing dot.com and technology enterprises. Developing an organization capable of establishing and implementing a sound business model is their major leadership challenge.

"Old economy" companies are redefining their value chains, extending their business reach through the Internet, and experimenting with new technology applications that will generate new revenues and profits. In many cases they are cannibalizing their old businesses in order to accelerate e-business growth. For example, IBM and GE have announced they intend to be e-businesses "to the core." Transformation in the face of resistance is their major leadership challenge.

More broadly, e-business is becoming an element of every business strategy. It is becoming a "state of mind" in addressing leadership and strategy implementation concems. The highly competitive, rapidly changing business environment and the intense war for "free-agent" talent impel companies to adopt an innovative leadership approach. Whether a company is building from scratch or transforming from an established business, the emergence of e-business has become a "good business reason" for companies to redefine expectations of their leaders.

Expectations of Leaders

Certain characteristics of leaders are particularly important to give e-business organizations the capacity to adapt, innovate, and grow rapidly. Whether they evolve from older businesses or from start-ups, leaders need to be capable of:

1. Defining a clear and simple focus for the business. Successful e-leaders build a business model that translates ideas into revenues and profits. They communicate a focused, coherent strategy or future so that all contributors understand their place in it. Leaders show courage in malting the decisions and changes necessary to enable the enterprise to survive and grow.

2. Defining an employee brand that attracts and retains needed talent. They excel at understanding and meeting expectations of different employee segments (e.g., "gen i" workers). More than ever, e-leaders respect, empower, and reward their associates as valued contributors and stakeholders. Through "upward mentoring' many executives are learning about trends and current technology from younger talent. E-leaders build an attractive value proposition for talent, and are not merely hands-off, hierarchical managers.

3. Sustaining a high performance work culture in ways that create a competitive business advantage, and enable people to develop new capabilities through their work that will enhance organizational performance and competitiveness. …

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