The Power of a Digitally Savvy C-Suite

Published 3 March 2020 by Caroline Koktvedgaard

In this series, we break down Digital Transformation in 100 Questions. This week, we’ll focus on helping you lead through Digital Transformation – from the top down.

 

Digital Transformation is rapidly affecting businesses across industries, and across the world. Whether you’re faced with innovative competitors disrupting the marketplace, or the daunting task of transforming your own organisation, digital capabilities are emerging as a transformational force

Across all sectors, “digitally mature” businesses are 26% more profitable than their peers, according to research from MIT. However, while 90% of executives expect their industries to be disrupted by digital technologies to a great or moderate extent, only 44% believe their organisations are adequately prepared for these digital disruptions, according to a joint survey from MIT and Deloitte

Additionally, research from Boyden reveals that 53% of American workers believe the senior leadership at their company is “unprepared to implement a successful digital strategy”, while only 14% say their company’s leadership is “very prepared.” 

This week, we will explore what the “digital future” has in store for the C-suite, and how you can become a “digital-savvy” leader.

 

10 Questions for the C-suite

1. What is digitisation, and what does it mean for business leaders?

2. Why now?

3. Who should take the lead on digital transformation?

4. Why is it important for leaders to be digitally savvy?

5. How does it affect the business if a leader is not up to speed digitally?

6. How does your employee base view leaders who don’t quite understand digital?

7. What does leadership look like in a digital world?

8. What capabilities are most crucial for leaders to possess

9. How do you implement digital transformation throughout your organisation?

10. How can you ensure you’re making a lasting change?

 

What is Digitisation?

McKinsey defines digitisation as the process of leveraging technology to automate business processes. The term “technology”, in this case, encompasses everything from social media networks to automated finance systems, robotics and artificial intelligence, and platforms that capture and track data. 

However, perhaps more importantly, the rise of digitisation has also ushered in a big shift in organisational behaviours and mindsets. In our daily lives, digitisation doesn’t just mean putting more digital tools in place – it means changing our lifestyle, our mindsets, our leadership, and the way our organisations are put together.

 

Who should take the lead on digital transformation?

Senior leaders should be the ones to own Digital Transformation, and drive this through the organisation. “Leaders need to get involved from day one, they need to set the vision, they need to empower people, and they need to fund it properly as well,” comments Circus Street’s Co-Founder and CEO, Jonny Townsend. 

However, looking beyond the CEO, all members of the C-suite need to play a role in driving digital transformation. In many business cases, the CDO is tasked with executing and managing a digital strategy. It makes a lot of sense for the process to start with the CDO, as they can be extremely helpful in initially formulating your digital strategy, developing a roadmap for digital transformation, as well as working on raising awareness, communication and training. 

Of course, it’s tempting to leave the use of marketing technology to the CMO, who, after all, is best-positioned to use technology available through various digital and social channels to inform the rest of the organisation of trends in the marketplace. However, “the CMO will only be successful in this role when working in partnership and strategic harmony with the CIO, the CTO, Chief Sales Officer, and ultimately, the C-suite at large,” says Steven Cook (Former Samsung SVP, CMO North America). 

However, the danger is falling into a process in which tech-heavy work is delegated to a tech leader, and digital upskilling is delegated to the HR function. In our experience, this is where Digital Transformation becomes too siloed, and ultimately fails. The only way to create real business impact is to make the whole organisation work together to embrace Digital Transformation.

 

Why is it important for leaders to be digitally savvy?

Research proves that employees want to work for companies that are tapped into Digital Transformation. According to a recent survey from MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte, 80% of employees prefer to work for digital leaders. In addition to this, the majority working in “digitally mature” organisations were found to be satisfied with their organisation’s strategy, culture and leadership. 

Armin Meier (Managing Partner of Boyden Switzerland) argues that the younger generation has come to expect this new style of digital leadership, and in some cases, they “won’t want to work for a company that doesn’t understand the need to digitize and will leave.”

Meier further comments: “If a leader doesn’t understand those implications, he will probably end up as the dinosaur somewhere in the corner trying to manage the way he did in the past. He won’t really understand what’s going on in his workforce and he won’t even know the right questions to ask.”

 

What does leadership look like in the age of Digital Transformation?

It is perhaps this prospect of becoming a tech-dinosaur that leaders find most daunting. How are you supposed to keep up with the pace of change, and adapt your leadership skills for a future we don’t even know what looks like?

The World Economic Forum estimate that 54% of employees of large companies will need significant re- and up-skilling in order to fully harness the growth opportunities offered by the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”. 

Most importantly, the future of work requires a level of digital fluency among boards and senior executives. You don’t have to be a Silicon Valley-grade tech guy in order to be an effective C-suite executive. But, according to Polar’s Tom Fowler, “if you don’t have an appreciation and a generally conversant grasp on the way the digital side of the equation works, you’re operating half blind.”

While it is becoming increasingly important to possess both digital proficiency and technological, “human skills”, such as creativity, critical thinking and persuasion, will remain crucial. In fact, leadership skills have perhaps never been more important. 

As Armin Meier explains, “The experience of inspiring people, of telling stories that move people forward, developing people, this experience will not go away even in the most digitised world. It becomes even more important.”

 

Circus Street can help you lead through Digital Transformation

From what we’ve seen, leaders who succeed at Digital Transformation empower people – and they do this by breaking down the barriers between tech and the rest of the business. 

At Circus Street, we help organisations get Digital Transformation right from Day 1. As a global online learning business, we help organisations navigate the uncertainties of technology-driven future by building their digital capabilities. And we're encouraging global organisations to break down silos, and work together in addressing the digital skills gap. 

We help every person in an organisation to be educated on these key aspects of digital. This, in turn, builds the foundation on which the whole organisation can continue on your journey towards digital transformation.

To find out how Circus Street has empowered organisations by building their digital capability, see our testimonials page. Or sign up for a free trial of our lessons to see how we can help drive business transformation in your business.

 

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