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Digitally Savvy Boards Powering Growth in Wales

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Digital transformation needs to be led from the top if Welsh organisations are to thrive in the digital age, according to The Open University.

The advice comes from the OU’s Leading in a Digital Age report, which points towards a correlation between business performance and leaders equipped to manage digital change.  The study found that over nine in 10 (94%) leaders who had received digital training went on to report organisational growth, compared with just over six in 10 (63%) who had not received any training.

Leading in a Digital Age combines the university’s experience and insight with new research from 950 CTOs and senior leaders within UK organisations, including 150 Welsh employers.

In Wales, the benefit of senior digital skills development aren't just being felt on the bottom line: leaders who invested in digital skills training are experiencing improved productivity (52%), greater employee engagement (51%), increased profit (35%), enhanced agility (34%) and improved staff retention (26%).  Additionally, 77 per cent of Welsh business leaders who received digital training felt more inclined to encourage colleagues to undergo similar courses.

However, many Welsh chiefs questioned admit they still lack the requisite skills to manage in the digital age, with nearly half (45%) saying their organisation is falling behind on embracing new technologies such as AI, augmentation and automation. Almost four in 10 (44%) say they could do more to address their own digital skills deficit and 67 per cent acknowledge they’d benefit from more digital training.

The report suggests a lack of understanding when it comes to digital leadership is a key barrier to digital training in Wales. More than one in three (43%) leaders confess they are unsure where to start when it comes to developing their own digital skills. Moreover, nearly two thirds (64%) say they tend to buy in the digital skills they need rather than training their workforce. However, the university believes that a culture of continuous learning and development in line with digital progress would prevent these stumbling blocks emerging for organisations in the digital age.

Lynnette Thomas, Deputy Director for The Open University in Wales, comments:

“The workplace is evolving at a relentless pace with disruptive technologies and innovations demanding to keep growing and adapting or risk being left behind. In Wales, this is no different. We can’t afford for organisations to lose track of their digital skills and be left behind. Leadership in this country needs to adapt to an ever-changing world, where those at the helm possess or develop the right skills to thrive in the digital age and enable them to lead with confidence and influence.

“Without a comprehensive understanding of the digital workplace, how will employers know what questions to ask, or what action to take? By failing to adapt to the digital world or investing in new skills, some leaders may even start to see a shift in power, with doubts raised over their ability to lead responsibly. Welsh employees may also simply chose seek more innovative leadership elsewhere, especially given Wales’ booming tech industry. As such, we believe it will be those senior leaders who adopt a culture of lifelong digital learning who will thrive in this digital age, boosting their bottom line as well as staff loyalty, engagement and retention.”

The Open University's Chancellor, Baroness Martha Lane-Fox commented:

“We’re living in a digital age where the development of technology affects all areas of our lives from the workplace to our homes. But in a business context, digital presents a very real opportunity to become more profitable, yet for those who fail to embrace change there is a real risk of being left behind.

“For a business to survive in this world, workforces must be equipped to harness the power of digital technologies, and understand how technology can positively impact their work. Digital leadership is vital to making this vision work, with senior teams fostering a culture of digital adaptation, starting with improving their own digital skills, and then cascading that knowledge throughout the organisation.”