Over the weekend, a senior manager at another company challenged me as to whether he really had to be digitally proficient. He went on to explain he had hired an intern for his social media presence and a personal online shopper for his clothes. He had an IT person to keep his smart phone up-to-date and a world-renowned agency to brief him on digital trends. Digital was under control.
Given my role as a Chief Digital Officer, I was slightly exasperated. I tried to construct an analogy based on how automobile company executives shouldn’t have personal drivers. Unless they drive their cars themselves, they don’t know what their customers are experiencing. Because digital is so integral to every company’s future, executives must experience it themselves – another form of Manage by Walking Around.
The senior manager was unconvinced.
I couldn’t find much online with compelling arguments as to why managers should be digital. However I did stumble on a five-year-old blog post which does a good job of capturing what I believe. The blog appears abandoned so I’m repeating it here, slightly streamlined:
A C-Level person in the 1970′s who had never watched television, or a manager in the 1940′s who had not used a telephone, or a business leader in the 1990′s who had never purchased a product online would have a difficult time understanding how these technologies affected their business externally, or how they could be used to benefit their organizations. They would also be in danger of either ignoring the technologies altogether (“We don’t need telephones. Business is about face-to-face relationships!”) or they might be easily lured by a clever sales person into wasting money and time on less-than-useful efforts (like the people who spent huge amounts of money on expensive websites in the late 90′s when a simple web presence might have sufficed).
The same is true today. Great managers are digitally fluent enough to make smart, informed strategic, policy, cultural, staffing, IT or budgeting decisions in light of the changes occurring in the digital age. They aren’t easily misled by eager sales people, they understand the need for digitally fluent employees, and they are comfortable critically questioning any sort of hype either for or against the use of digital media in their organization. Importantly, their digital fluency, while bolstered by books on the topic, or advice from consultants or sales people, is best developed through active participation in digital culture and practices both inside and outside of the organization.
Well said, Christian Briggs. This is even more true five years later. We can’t just be digitally literate; good managers must be digitally fluent.
Your story reminds me of a colleague who took an SEO job at a publisher with shrinking online traffic. The publisher’s slow website was the cause. To speed up the website, my colleague had to coordinate with IT. (He worked in Marketing.) Senior management had to approve the coordination. They were not digitally fluent. My colleague spent the greater part of a year educating them. Web traffic continued to descend in the interim. Senior management paid a steep price for their digital learning curve. In the end, that is time and opportunity cost they will never get back.
Thanks Eisaiah. This is a good example of the steep cost of not being digitally fluent.
I was Project Manager for a large very expensive software project designed to radically improve a workflow that was a key business components. A week away from Beta test an executive decided to make an issue over the increased cost of the company’s database license. This manager actually concluded it didn’t matter which database platform was used for the project nearing completion. Contracted with a different database company over every one’s screams of protest. Couldn’t understand why the hot project went over schedule by 18 months and over budget by 2.5 million.