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 over eight in 10 (83%) Scottish leaders who had received digital training went on to report organisational growth, compared with just two thirds (66%) who had not received any training.
Leading in a Digital Age combines the university’s experience and insight with new research amongst 950 CTOs and senior leaders, 150 of whom represent Scottish organisations.
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 (52%), greater employee engagement (52%), enhanced agility (43%), improved staff retention (42%) and increased profit (36%). Additionally, 75 per cent of Scottish 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 (39%) saying their organisation is falling behind on embracing new technologies such as AI, augmentation and automation. Nearly half (41%) say they could do more to address their own digital skills deficit and 69 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 (36%) leaders confess they are unsure where to start when it comes to developing their own digital skills. Moreover, half of Scottish leaders (50%) 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.
Susan Stewart, Director of The Open University in Scotland, comments: “The Scottish workplace is going through a real period of change. Disruptive technologies and innovations mean that our organisations find themselves under immense pressure to keep growing and adapting or risk being left behind. Right from the top, leadership needs to confront these changes. We need those at the helm to possess or develop the right skills to thrive in the digital age so that they can lead with confidence and influence.
“Here in Scotland, we believe it will be the senior leaders who adopt a culture of lifelong digital learning who will flourish in the digital age, boosting their bottom line as well as staff loyalty, engagement and retention.”
The Open University’s Chancellor, Baroness Martha Lane-Fox commented: “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.”
Further findings as well as details of The Open University’s offering, are available in The Open University Leading in a Digital Age Report.