Digital transformation needs to be led from the top, with senior leaders and C-suite professionals proactively developing the skills they need to lead in the digital age.
The advice comes from The Open University’s Leading in a Digital Age report, which points towards a correlation between business performance and leaders equipped to manage digital change. The study found that nine in 10 (88%) leaders who had received digital training in the past year went on to report organisational growth, compared with less than half (49%) who had not received any training.
The benefit of senior digital skills development aren't just being felt on the bottom line: leaders who invested in digital skills training are experiencing improved productivity (56%), greater employee engagement (55%), enhanced agility (42%) increased profit (42%), and improved staff retention (33%). Additionally, 83 per cent of leaders who received digital training felt more inclined to encourage colleagues to undergo similar courses.
However, many leaders questioned admit they still lack the requisite skills to manage in the digital age, with four in 10 (44%) saying their organisation is falling behind on embracing new technologies such as AI, augmentation and automation. Nearly half (47%) say they could do more to address their own digital skills deficit and 78 per cent acknowledge they’d benefit from more digital training.
A key barrier, the report suggests, is a lack of understanding when it comes to digital leadership. More than one in three (37%) leaders confess they are unsure where to start when it comes to developing their own digital skills. Moreover, nearly two thirds (64%) say they tend to buy in the digital skills they need rather than training their workforce. But the university believes that a culture of continuous learning and development in line with digital progress would prevent these stumbling blocks emerging for organisations in the digital age.
Leading in a Digital Age combines the university’s experience and academic insight with research amongst 950 CTOs and senior leaders within UK organisations. The study reports on the benefits of digital skills development for senior leaders.
We’re living in a digital age where the development of technology affects all areas of our lives from the workplace to our homes. But in a business context, digital presents a very real opportunity to become more profitable, yet for those who fail to embrace change there is a real risk of being left behind. For a business to survive in this world, workforces must be equipped to harness the power of digital technologies, and understand how technology can positively impact their work.
Digital leadership is vital to making this vision work, with senior teams fostering a culture of digital adaptation, starting with improving their own digital skills, and then cascading that knowledge throughout the organisation.”Baroness Martha Lane-Fox, Chancellor, The Open University
Throughout The Open University's history, we have been helping individuals develop their skills in new and innovative ways. With the digital revolution upon us, the time has come for tech skills to come to the fore. Our new Leading in the Digital Age report suggests that for UK organisations to thrive in 2020 and beyond, the digital revolution needs to start in the boardroom. Doing so, will foster a culture of digital skills development, encouraging employees at all levels to embrace the requisite tech skills.
This report shows that if we invest in our leaders, they in turn will invest in developing their employees– giving their workforce the skills to drive success in the digital age. Ensuring that these skills are passed on throughout an entire organisation will be crucial for leaders looking to guide their teams through radical workplace changes brought about by disruptive technologies and innovations.”Malcolm Sweeting, Pro-Chancellor, The Open University
The workplace is in a constant state of flux with disruptive technologies and innovations seeing organisations under immense pressure to keep growing and adapting or risk being left behind. Those organisations that fail to grow and adapt risk being left behind. Leadership needs to adapt to a bold new world, in which those at the helm are possessing or developing the right skills to thrive in the digital age and enable them to lead with confidence and influence.
Without a thorough understanding of the digital workplace, how will they know what questions to ask, or what action to take? By failing to adapt to a digital mind set or invest adequately in new skills, some bosses may start to see a shift in power, with questions raised over their ability to lead effectively. Employees may also simply chose to move on to pastures new under more innovative leadership. We believe it will be those senior leaders who adopt a culture of lifelong digital learning who will thrive in the digital age, boosting their bottom line as well as staff loyalty, engagement and retention.”Jane Dickinson, Digital Skills Lead, The Open University