Digital Leadership and Citizen Development: The key to digital transformation

The corona pandemic has had an accelerating effect on digitalization: virtual collaboration, online meetings and the use of digital tools have now become an integral part of our daily business. But what impact does this have on leadership? What does digital leadership have to look like in the future and what role does citizen development play in this? In this interview, Marcus Machon, citizen development expert and consultant for digitalization, talks about how managers can and should use digital tools and how leadership can succeed in a virtual context.

You are one of the pioneers of digitization at Tiba. How did it come about that you developed into a “digital nomad”?

Marcus Machon: When I started as a consultant at Tiba in 2016, I was faced with the challenge of having to create sophisticated project reports with PowerPoint and Excel. It was a tedious and nerve-wracking job – I spent hours copying data into Excel and tinkering with PowerPoint charts.

But it was out of this necessity that my motivation arose to get into the digital world of topics. I saw the incredible possibilities of Excel formulas for automation and began to look into it intensively. My curiosity led me to Power Query, Power BI Reporting, Power Automate and Microsoft Lists, which completely changed the way I work. The efforts have paid off: The reporting, which used to take me days, I could now do in just a few minutes. I noticed that many customers were also looking for simple solutions for automation and reporting without having to start large IT projects. This awakened in me the desire to show others how they can benefit from digitization.

This need, coupled with my personal interest, ultimately resulted in the founding of my own competence center “Citizen Development”. Since then, I have been able to build a great team of 6 colleagues. Together, we are all committed to digital transformation with Microsoft 365 to make both our own processes and the needs of our customers more efficient and effective. This is how the personal need became an inspiring success story.

What does “digital leadership” mean to you and how do you use citizen development and Microsoft 365 for it?

Marcus Machon: For me, digital leadership means recognizing and actively shaping the opportunities and challenges of digital transformation. This also includes uncomfortable topics that are often neglected by “New Work” advocates or self-proclaimed LinkedIn coaches. For example, I believe that, especially when working remotely, managers sometimes have to lead more intensively in order to promote and maintain the motivation, commitment and performance of employees. This requires clear objectives and control, as well as regular feedback, preferably without whitewashing.

For me, Microsoft 365 is particularly helpful in the context of digital leadership. As a leader, Microsoft serves as a central tool to enable seamless collaboration and communication.

How can citizen development and working with Microsoft 365 specifically support executives in successfully leading organizations into the digital future?

Marcus Machon: Citizen development and Microsoft 365 offer executives practical solutions to successfully lead their organizations into the digital future. Here are some concrete examples of how I use these tools in my own team:

  • Lively communication and collaboration: In my team, we have our own Microsoft team for internal communication. We use Microsoft Teams for a weekly coffee break as well as to coordinate internal projects, which makes our collaboration more efficient and transparent. I also use Viva Engage intensively as a “social network” in Tiba to inform about the latest trends, tips, tricks but also personal things. In this way, I can expand the exchange with other managers and build up a real leadership network.  
  • Fast and flexible implementation: With the Power Platform, we have developed apps that enable us to process customer inquiries faster and more efficiently. By incorporating Power Automate into our processes, we’ve been able to automate routine tasks and free up time for more important tasks. As a result, my employees have more time for personal or professional training and tasks. In this context, I have noticed that my employees and I personally are less burdened and more balanced. 
  • Data-driven decisions and goals: Using Power BI, we’ve created reports and dashboards that give us an overview of our key performance indicators (KPIs). This allows us to make informed decisions and use our resources more effectively. In combination with Viva Goals, we have implemented an OKR system that helps us better track and align our goals. As a manager, this permits me to set clear goals and align my team with a common vision and strategy. 
  • Clear and transparent task management: We use Microsoft Planner and Microsoft Project Web to organize our projects and tasks. In doing so, we have found that the clear assignment of responsibilities and the ability to track the progress of tasks in real time significantly increase our productivity. We track the progress of tasks here on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. 

By effectively using these tools and implementing digital leadership principles, leaders can make their organizations more agile and successfully lead them into the digital future. Actually, a brave new world and many opportunities for leaders. However, I have the perception that executives in particular hardly engage with the potential of technologies.

How can leaders ensure that citizen development is successfully implemented in their organization?

Marcus Machon: A successful citizen development initiative is indeed a balancing act between freedom and governance. On the one hand, we want to encourage the creativity and innovation of our employees, but on the other hand, we have to ensure that the solutions developed meet company standards and do not pose any security risks.

First of all, managers and IT departments should be willing to allow a certain degree of flexibility and encourage their employees to make mistakes and learn from them. At the same time, however, they should also find the right balance by creating clear guidelines and frameworks for citizen development.

I recommend identifying motivated and competent employees who are interested in such projects and have the necessary time and initiative. Managers should work with these employees to develop concrete, simple use cases for automation or evaluations and draw conclusions about which projects are suitable for citizen development and what effort is involved.

In summary, on the one hand, managers should grant freedom to promote innovation, but on the other hand, they should also create clear framework conditions and guidelines to minimize risks and ensure the sustainable success of citizen development initiatives.

What is digital leadership for you personally and what are the advantages and disadvantages of all of us in an increasingly digitalized work environment? What specific experiences have you had?

Marcus Machon: For me, digital leadership means taking advantage of the opportunities offered by digitalization to promote more effective and efficient ways of working, while at the same time keeping an eye on the well-being of employees. For me, digital leadership always goes hand in hand with courage, decisiveness, curiosity and a certain play instinct. Yes, new tools and ways of working take time, but you have to invest this time (also or especially as a manager) and try things out to see if these tools make work more efficient or not. From my personal experience, remote work in particular has many advantages. I feel much more productive and flexible when working remotely.

Our team consists of six people, all of whom work remotely with our customers. Of course, there is a lack of personal contact here. To counteract this, Joana had the  idea, for example, that we set up a 30-minute virtual coffee break in the team once a week to regularly work together on internal projects. In addition, we usually meet in person 2-3 times a year at joint events or workshops. 

A concrete example of this is the use of Microsoft Viva Insights. For my team, I have automatically scheduled weekly focus times to give them undisturbed time to concentrate on their work. These focus times help team members get their work done more efficiently while reducing stress, knowing they have fixed blockers for their tasks.

Another aspect is the deliberate deactivation of Outlook and Teams notifications after 6 p.m. By deactivating all notifications in the evening, I ensure that my employees can enjoy their free time undisturbed and switch off. This contributes to a better work-life balance and promotes employee satisfaction and commitment in the long term.

As a digital leader, it’s my job to ensure the well-being of my employees while providing them with the tools and tools they need for their daily work. Microsoft 365, Chat GPT and Bing Chat will revolutionize our entire work environment in my opinion. A specific example is the Microsoft 365 Copilot in PowerPoint, which automatically conjures up a presentation from a simple idea. In Teams, Copilot helps to create complete meeting minutes. As leaders in the digital age, it is our task to recognize these changes and actively deal with them in order to successfully guide employees through the digital jungle.

We thank you for this inspiring conversation.

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