If you are leading a digital transformation effort, you know how important it is get executive buy-in. Yet many leaders have only a tangential grasp of what it means to be “digital” and shy away from getting their hands dirty. Altimeter found that low digital literacy or expertise among employees and leadership was the top challenge facing digital transformation initiatives. What’s frustrating is that while there is a plethora of training and development options, most executives still hang by their fingertips.

The problem is that most of the training programs focus primarily on the “what” and the “how”. What is digital transformation, What are the latest trends and business models you need to know (platforms, virtual reality, 3D printing, etc.), How do you use digital tools to engage with customers and employee, How do you lead a digital transformation process. But without the “why”, two things happen — they either never engage, or they see the potential but other priorities eclipse that early enthusiasm and digital falls to the wayside.

The solution is to make digital transformation matter to each executive personally. I have been working with executives on their digital and social efforts for the past decade and the only successful, sustainable programs are those that continually reinforce the “why” of digital transformation.

5 Tips to Better Train & Develop Executives on Digital

Here are five tips on how to design or retool your digital training and development programs to ensure not only that executives develop a digital mindset, but that proactively seek out ways to improve their digital literacy.

  1. Tie digital to strategic objectives.

    Start with what is already a priority for every executive — the strategic objectives that they are on the hook to deliver. Identify how digital could help them achieve their strategic goal better, faster, more efficiently. There is not a single function or role that is not being impacted by digital — they key is to figure out why digital is important to each person. For example, if top line revenue growth is an objective, how can digital accelerate the decision making process with a target customer set?

  2. Put digital metrics on the executive dashboard.

    Every executive has a dashboard by which they measure their success. Having identified where digital can have an impact, include a few relevant, personalized digital metrics on the dashboard that connects digital to those strategic objectives.

  3. Enable peer mentoring.

    There is safety in numbers, and executives are no different. Hearing what’s working — and what’s frustrating — from their peers will give them the confidence and courage to try new things. Formalize the mentoring with “accountability partners” and make digital mentoring an item on the regular executive meeting agenda. Watch out for “reverse mentoring” where a lower-level (and typically younger) digitally-savvy employee is assigned to mentor an executive. The problem is that employee likely doesn’t understand the context of leadership for that executive and focuses on “what” and “how” without the “why”. I have found it infinitely easier to teach an executive how to think and be digital than to teach a digital native how to be a leader.

  4. Expose leaders to digital customers.

    At one company I’ve worked with, executives take every Thursday afternoon to go out and meet with customers. In the past few years, they’ve added digital channels to the mix, ensuring that executives see how customers use their mobile devices to engage with the company — and their competitors. There’s nothing like experiencing first hand the digital trials and tribulations as customers try to engage digitally with your organization.

  5. Engineer engagement.

    One of the hardest areas to change is the personal engagement of an executive on digital channels, either internally with employees or externally with customers and partners. In my book, “The Engaged Leader”, I lay out three ways to engage — Listen, Share, and Engage. Find ways to jumpstart direct, personal engagement by executives — the conversation and relationships they develop, if tied to strategic objectives, will sustain their digital engagement.

Additional Digital Transformation Resources

If you don’t have a digital transformation leadership training developed, here’s a list of executive development digital transformation courses. Before you send your executives off on these courses, make sure that they understand the “why” of digital transformation and ensure that when they return from the course, that you have an environment that will nurture their new-found enthusiasm for all things digital.

Altimeter also offers customized digital leadership workshops that can be stand-alone, day-long events or worked into the agenda of your next executive retreat or offsite. Learn more.

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