Leading in a digital age

Blazing a trail – why effective leadership is vital to securing a front seat in the digital skills revolution.

In today’s workplace, digital skills are highly valued irrespective of the sector one may work in. In the future workplace, digital skills will be crucial. 

However, there is a pervasive fear that a skills gap, created by the boom in the digital economy versus the amount of people who are trained to work in it, will be harmful – to individuals, businesses and to the country’s broader prosperity. 

But, the digital skills gap is in fact an opportunity for all employees to jump into a new sector or to ascend the ranks in their current one, and this revitalisation and development of skills is good for businesses too.

In the report – Leading in a Digital Age – there’s a clear link between business performance and leaders who are trained to manage digital change. 88% of leaders who had received digital training in the past year went on to report organisational growth, compared with under half of those who had not received any training at all.

Organisations need to champion a development strategy that provides a flexible, yet continuous learning environment

And the benefits of skilled digital leaders go even further. Leaders who invested in digital skills training are experiencing improved productivity, greater employee engagement, enhanced agility, increased profits and improved staff retention.

Encouragingly 83% of leaders who received digital training felt more inclined to encourage colleagues to undergo similar courses. This helps digitally savvy leaders to create a culture of lifelong learning throughout the organisation.                                                                     

So, it’s clear that systemic change in the workforce that prioritises digital skills acquisition must start from the top. However, many leaders questioned admit they still lack the requisite skills to manage in the digital age.

The report clearly tells us that there is more to be done to ensure that senior executives have the skills to lead from the front. We believe that organisations need to prioritise a broader learning culture, which helps all employees, including senior leaders, to uncover their own drivers and uses those motivators to guide objective setting and skill development. 

Put simply, organisations need to champion a development strategy that provides a flexible, yet continuous learning environment (where learning can comfortably sit alongside day to day priorities) that will create a more engaged senior workforce, ready to disseminate their learning throughout the organisation. 

So, with the digital revolution upon us, the time has come for digital skills to come to the fore. We know 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 skills to not only keep pace but thrive in the digital era.  

Leading in a Digital Age is out now.


About the author

Malcolm Sweeting is pro-chancellor of The Open University.



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