The key skills leaders need to drive digital adoption

Organisations large and small have been touting the importance of digital transformation and adoption – and attempting to drive change for years. While many are running as fast as they can to adapt, they feel as though they are standing still despite their best attempts.


If you sit down with leaders and professionals charged with driving the change, soon enough you’ll be confronted by an all too familiar story. It’s not that technology implementation failed (although there is plenty of that occurring), it's that leading the transformation is an uphill battle – one which leaders are often losing in a sea of organisational resistance.


Whilst the uphill battle is real (as I’ve seen it first hand), in a market where digital talent is thin on the ground, we have seen specialists rise through the ranks too quickly and are lacking the real skills required to lead transformation within the business. While technical skills are important, it’s not enough to drive the required change.


So, what skills do leaders need to drive digital adoption and transformation?


The most effective digital leaders are those that bring a mixture of digital expertise and skills in modern change management.


  1. The ability to educate and make the complex simple Unfortunately for leaders driving digital change, the task can often feel like a task in spinning plates. Driving change requires leaders to educate the organisation, the exec and even the board whilst actively making the required change in the business simultaneously. As humans are naturally programmed to fear change, an unhealthy level of scepticism is often at play when it comes to digital - and leaders need to over communicate and educate in order to move the agenda forward - and do so in a way that gets people to lean in.

  2. Strong communication skills It can be said that in environments of change, you need to communicate 10x more than you ordinarily would. Great digital leaders not only understand the importance of being able to cast a clear vision and direction, but equally understand the importance of storytelling along the journey to connect people back to the why to maintain momentum and appetite.

  3. An ability to collaborate Digital is pervasive, which means it can’t exist in a bubble within a business - nor can it be the job of one person or department. Effective digital leaders recognise the role that others play on the journey and actively seek to develop relationships and drive alignment to progress the agenda and align teams across the business.

  4. Data literacy While having strong expertise in digital is important, so too is having literacy in the data space. Digital inherently provides organisations with access to data at unprecedented levels, and with data increasingly powering effective decision making and driving competitive advantage, it is a core enabler of change. Strong digital leaders will know how to draw and derive insights to shape direction, understand progress and demonstrate performance.

  5. Learning orientation A good digital leader understands the rapid pace in which the market is changing, and seeks to remain in-tune with trends while continuously evolve their skills. However, these leaders also understand that to move the agenda forward it will take a village, therefore these leaders actively seek to cultivate and nurture change through skills development within their direct department and wider organisation.

  6. Ability to operate in ambiguity Adopting and embracing digital is not a linear path - the end point is often unclear and the steps and stages uncertain. Being able to make decisions based on the information that is available today, a willingness to experiment, an ability to pivot when things aren’t working and embracing change as a constant are all part of a leaders ability to operate in ambiguity.

  7. Resilience One of the biggest failings of organisations is the belief that adoption and transformation is a short term initiative rather than a longer term strategy. The bigger the organisation, the longer it takes to transform. This is often mis-understood as organisations seek to drive pace through the adoption of approaches like agile, which suggest that the change process will be rapid. Effective digital leaders are those who have built their resilience to face the tough challenges. They know how to play the long game and know that they have draw inspiration and energy from the small wins, particularly early on.

If you are looking to drive digital adoption and transformation within your organisation, get in touch with us. We partner with marketing and business leaders to build and implement digital transformation strategies that help to drive real change.