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Digital Transformation: Leading a Learning Organization

Enabling Ongoing Digital Knowledge Transfer

Forward-thinking CEOs ensure that their organization has access to the latest digital business technologies. But in today’s global networked economy, that’s not enough. If you believe that digital transformation knowledge is power, then fully mastering the ability to apply your IT capabilities into actionable wisdom is infinitely more potent.

The Harvard Business Review (HBR) market research team recently completed a global study of the path that several organizations have taken to develop and deliver the digital learning support resources that their key internal stakeholders both need and want.

In a prior editorial, I described how Digital Leaders are better prepared to cross the skills chasm. In this follow-on editorial, I’ll share the typical roadblocks on the path to digital transformation progress. Plus, I’ll also share some useful recommendations.

Enabling Ongoing Digital Knowledge Transfer

According to the HBR study findings, the biggest barrier to learning about new technology from IT leaders is the lack of an appropriate forum for this knowledge transfer to take place. Forty-five percent of the survey respondent base agreed. In addition, 34 percent said their IT leaders are clearly too busy.

While Digital Leaders face the same barriers as their Follower and Laggard colleagues, they are less likely to lack an appropriate learning forum. HBR says that a key part of the CIO’s focus on digital leadership should include appropriate learning forums for employees across the whole organization.


Furthermore, while social, mobile, and cloud computing tend to get the most attention, when it comes to gaps in digital acumen, it’s all about finding the value in data. Seventy-three percent of survey respondents rated analytics as extremely important to their area of the business. But only 20 percent highly rated their own knowledge and skills of Big Data analytics methodology.


The preferred method of learning about new digital technology -- self-study and independent research -- is a good starting point. That being said, 23 percent of respondents at the Digital Leaders are much more likely than their peers to engage with outside subject-matter experts, while in search of guidance.

Known Best Practices to Increase Digital Acumen

Digital Leaders do a number of things that other companies can emulate. Given that more than 80 percent of the survey respondents are either Followers or Laggards, there’s plenty of room for improvement. HBR believes that all CEOs should personally lead this charge -- from a vision and strategy perspective. And there’s a lot that proactive CIOs, in partnership with others, can do as well.

Proactive Actions for CIOs:

  • Create a digital business advisory board with both internal and outside experts to advise the executive leadership team.
  • Learn to paint a picture of the digital transformation future, and use examples from companies in similar industries to make that real.
  • Embed IT staff in the Lines of Business so that learning happens during the course of work, not just in special meetings or IT training sessions.
  • Create a common lexicon to increase understanding, communicating in language that makes sense from the perspective of business activities and outcomes, not from the IT perspective.
  • Partner closely with key business leaders -- especially the CMO and the head of product development -- to bring together the best from both domains.
  • Identify and make clear which digital transformation knowledge and skills need to reside in the Lines of Business and which should reside in IT.
  • Work with the internal training and development organization to establish both formal and informal learning forums for employees.
  • Embrace a mentoring and coaching framework across the organization, with KPIs built into individual manager performance reviews.
  • Identify and bring in recognized outside subject-matter experts to address specific digital business trends for different parts of the organization.


In summary, HBR says that understanding new technology capabilities is no longer the exclusive purview of the traditional IT organization. Leaders from across the business must learn about and stay abreast of digital business trends, the implications of those trends for their organization, and how to leverage the new technologies.

They don’t have to know how the technology works, just why it’s important and how to use it. Based upon HBR’s assessment, the functional areas that typically have the most need for this type of guidance are R&D, marketing, customer service, and sales organizations.

The payoff for a knowledge transfer effort is compelling: Digital Leaders are expanding into more new markets, growing faster, and increasing their profit margins over their less progressive competitors. Essentially, these are worthwhile business outcomes that every CEO would crave.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By David H Deans

David H. Deans is the Managing Director at the GeoActive Group. He has more than 25 years of experience in the Technology, Media and Telecom sectors.