Teaching C-suite about digital

Most companies will have to transform digitally. In order to be successful, it is crucial to have buy-in from senior management – from the C-suite and the Board. Yet a recent study showed that knowledge about digital is lacking among these groups. What can we do to change that?


In a recent study almost 80% of board members in Swedish companies agreed that digital developments impact the business model. But they were less certain that such competence existed on the board or in the C-Suite. One telling sign was that more than 59% of the companies lacked a crisis management plan for social media. You can find out more about the study here (in Swedish) .

Most companies will have to transform digitally, i.e ”to use technology to radically improve performance or reach of enterprise”. A smaller group has already begun. But in order to be successful, it is crucial to have buy-in from senior management – from the C-suite and the Board. If that doesn’t happen they will treat digital transformation as a limited project, and that means failure. Lack of understanding of all things digital and the possibilities, as the study points to, hints at that failure becoming a reality for many companies.

So what can be done? It’s been suggested that lack of digital knowledge should be a reason for replacing members in senior management, but that’s the wrong way to go. Because the reasons why they are in the management team or on the board in the first place are still valid. This is about adding new knowledge and expertise, not removing existing ones.

Instead I would recommend companies to create teams of those that already work with digital in various capacities within the company today, and let them teach and share their insights. That way C-suite can gain an understanding of how digital impacts different areas of the company, and how that ultimately affects the bottom line.

In an earlier post here on LinkedIn I suggested some ways that a company can get started on transforming digitally. Some of them can be applied here as well. Like getting all parts of the company talking about digital and making digital part of the company DNA. Another, and arguably the most important one, is to start making real use of data in everything from business strategy and product development to communication and customer relationship. Getting senior management to understand the importance of data would have several benefits, not in the least if we could put a stop to ignoring the input or just using it for confirmation bias.

But in order to succeed with getting C-suite up to speed on digital we have to speak their language. One common mistake is to talk about digital from our own point of view, placing it in a context we are familiar with. We forget that to someone who doesn’t share our interests we’re talking gibberish, and being very boring at the same time.

Describing digital transformation in a language that C-suite can understand must start with an understanding of what is important to them and what parts of the company they are most concerned with. Only by addressing that, in a language they can understand, can we have any hope of getting through to them. Because the real reason why so few members of senior management have in-depth knowledge is because there has never been any reason for them to gain that knowledge. Until now, that is.

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