Insight Business management

The time has come for leaders to own their digital skills

Open University chancellor Baroness Martha Lane Fox shares her views on the importance of digital skills, learning and culture among leaders.

We’re living in a digital age. The development of technology now affects all areas of our lives, from the workplace to our homes. In a business context though, 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 many, the digital landscape of today may be seen as the fulfilment of a dream years in the making; the opportunity to become more streamlined, agile and productive through digitised processes is now a reality. But for others, tech can be an untameable whirlwind that leaves their organisations blindsided by innovation, slowing their development and leaving them encumbered by legacy processes as others steam ahead.

Senior leaders need to understand digital change

Released this week, The Open University’s Leading In A Digital Age report revealed that the most successful leaders – across all sectors – are those who are prepared to embrace, implement and leverage digital innovation and are consequently more likely to drive their business forward.

In this time of flux, it seems as though the leaders who can harness the power of digital technologies are all the more valuable. The report found that the senior leaders who have undertaken training to manage digital change witnessed real benefits to the agility and productivity of their business.

This was directly translatable to business growth too. An overwhelming majority of leaders who received digital training reported organisational growth, compared to under half of leaders who did not receive digital change training.

The ramifications are therefore clear: senior leadership teams need to have the understanding of, and ability to communicate, digital change and the workforce digital skills that are needed to take advantage of the opportunity. With this understanding, leaders will be able to empower a culture of lifelong learning that encourages an entire workforce to harness the latest technologies available to them.

The importance of digital skills, learning and culture

I’ve already mentioned the positive impact this can have on an organisation’s growth, but it’s also important for us to take a moment and view this opportunity from a broader perspective and look at the potential benefits a more synchronised tech understanding can have on wider society.

For example, a more comprehensive approach to technology in the care sector was the focus of a recent report by doteveryone. The study found that many care professionals and providers – as well as the recipients themselves – were suspicious or fearful of the incorporation of new technology in the sector. Helping those at the top of care organisations to establish a culture of lifelong learning that fosters digital adoption would go a long way to addressing this.

UK businesses now face far greater scrutiny for the digital technologies they develop and procure, and the impact this has on the communities they serve."

Organisations that embrace digital learning also stand to benefit from an increased awareness of tech sustainability. For too long, we haven’t been critical enough of an organisation’s technological footprint from a societal perspective. Thankfully, this is no longer the case.

UK businesses now face far greater scrutiny for the digital technologies they develop and procure, and the impact this has on the communities they serve. For organisations, whether they operate in the tech space or just use digital processes to try and support staff, it’s crucial they make these decisions with the appropriate expertise. An organisational understanding of today’s tech landscape is thus required.

By embracing a culture of lifelong learning and digital innovation, leaders ensure that they and their employees are ready for the myriad challenges that face them – from an organisational and societal perspective. As the Leading in a Digital Age report suggests, the implementation of this culture needs to begin at the top.

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