The UK needs Digitally Literate Directors

The vast majority of the people running UK businesses are digitally illiterate, says Martin Thomas, it’s a deficiency that threatens not only their career prospects but also the future of their companies and the long-term economic prospects of the UK.

Digital literacy has become a core requirement for every senior director, even those without the word ‘digital’ in their job titles. Rather than rely simply on the guidance of their highly paid digital experts every director now needs to have an understanding of key digital concepts and the best ways to integrate digital technology and digital thinking into an organisation’s strategic plans.

They need to be sufficiently competent and confident to know how best to interpret user-experience feedback from the company website, what a smart data strategy looks like, how to leverage the power of social media to enhance operational efficiencies and marketing performance and how to judge the potential benefits from emerging technology.

This requirement for digital knowledge and know-how is inevitably something of a challenge for the majority of company directors, educated and trained in an analogue age, before Google, Facebook and the digitally-powered patterns of customer behaviour that the younger generation takes for granted. When many of these directors started work the fax was considered to be a smart technology and the World Wide Web was simply a figment of Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s brilliant imagination.

Most directors appreciate the importance of digital technology to their businesses – in a recent Institute of Directors membership survey, 54% of respondents claimed that they would ‘be left far behind if they didn’t embrace digital technology.’ However, they will also admit to feeling ill-prepared when it comes to understanding how to make the most of the emerging digital opportunities. In a Chartered Management Institute survey conducted in February 2014, whilst 80% of business leaders thought it important to make the most of social media, 70% admitted that their efforts in this area were currently ineffective.

Finance for non-financial directors has become a standard training module for most major organisations. You cannot sit on a board of directors or senior management group without, at the very least, a broad understanding of financial concepts and terminology. The same is now true of digital. They may never become experts, but today’s leaders need to have an understanding of how digital can improve the performance of their businesses, how best to respond to its disruptive impact on business sectors and customer behaviour and how to get the most out of their digital experts.

The solution is dedicated training for company directors in the most relevant digital concepts and ideas, with practical guidance on developing and implementing a strategic approach to digital technology. With knowledge comes confidence and the appetite to learn more about the potential benefits that digital can deliver. Training also provides directors with the intelligence and insights to judge fact from fiction, reality from hyperbole, balance risk and reward when it comes to digital investments and be able to spot when the digital wool is being pulled over their eyes.

Martin is the course leader of the Institute of Directors Social Media Strategy for Directors course and co-founder of Dissident, a consulting and campaigning agency. Listen to his webinar Digital Literacy – Top Tips to put you ahead of the competition