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What are the leadership priorities in the age of digital dependency?

Chris Underwood, Managing Director - Adastrum Consulting

A new report from executive search and leadership development specialists, Adastrum Consulting, explores the lasting effects of disruption and the pandemic on leadership development, talent management and organisational culture. The D Suite: Digital, Data, Disruption and Dependency is the latest release from Adastrum Consulting’s successful white paper series, which examines the role of digital in the boardroom.

The pandemic vastly accelerated digital adoption and the speed at which organisations adapted to locked down working and installed new technology means transformation has become business as usual. The report underlines transformation does not simply mean system upgrades but new ways of working, as it is counterproductive to invest in technology without investing in the leaders to manage it or the workforce to use it.

Critically, the report highlights the digital and soft skills required for implementing new systems and processes and successfully managing change. 63% of workers do not believe they have the appropriate digital skills to fulfil new and emerging roles in their industry[1], compromising workforce resilience and future progress.

The immediate priority for HR and learning and development teams is to upskill, however, technical skills can quickly become outdated.  As well as having the talent to execute day-to-day skills, organisations must also develop behaviours that will benefit future requirements. While it’s impossible to predict what skills will be needed, it is clear that certain soft skills and leadership behaviours will enable leaders to adapt quickly, lead change and be resilient in periods of uncertainty regardless of the scenario. 

The report’s key findings include:

Data literacy and digital intelligence (DQ) are core leadership competencies.
DQ is the ability to transform data into actionable customer centric insight. Arming executives with the knowledge and experience to competently make important decisions quickly, prevents poor investment and distracting teams with shiny new technology that won’t benefit the business. 

Social and environmental responsibility are expected components of corporate culture.
ESG agendas contribute to profits as well as recruitment and retention but there is more pressure for businesses to act. Value hypocrisy can damage reputation and profits, as seen in the wake of protests against racial and social injustice.   

Emotional intelligence (EQ) and courage are invaluable for change management
Composure, resilience and focus are key to maintaining leadership credentials and purpose in times of uncertainty, quashing fear and instilling confidence. The pandemic has pushed mental health further up the corporate agenda than previous awareness events or royal ambassadors. Understanding and influencing others is critical to supporting staff wellbeing and empathetic communication is vital for good customer relations. 

Hybrid training and development programmes.
Without physically working side-by-side, skill gaps can be missed and development slips down the priority list, affecting performance, retention and happiness. Digital competency unlocks greater understanding for using different platforms to deliver effective training in remote and hybrid environments. Mentor programmes, especially for juniors and people at the start of their careers, are critical for engagement, wellbeing and progress. 

Chris Underwood, Managing Director at Adastrum Consulting, comments: “Even prior to the pandemic, our workplaces were constantly disrupted with digital advancement and innovation but the unpredictability and rapid rate of change has redefined the potential speed and form of future transformation. It has also further deepened our dependency on technology and we have almost reached the point where non-digital businesses cease to exist. At the forefront of organisational change, it is imperative that all leaders understand data and digital.

“Transformation is a never-ending journey, as businesses progress they will continue to incorporate the latest innovations and improve ways of working. Without the leadership to make new systems and processes work and deliver against business objectives, outlay in innovation quickly becomes a source of future technical debt. Leaders who are ready to tackle new and unforeseen challenges head on are indispensable. For employers, recruiting, retaining and developing these leaders must be an important part of talent management, long-term digital strategy and business growth plans.”

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