There’s a conversation that all senior leaders need to have with their teams about digital – it’s simple, it may be uncomfortable, and it’s important that it happen for as many organizations as possible. They need to talk about digital skills – the ones that their teams have, the ones that the leaders may lack, and the gap that must be closed in order to fully incorporate digital into the most important decisions that the business is making.

In order to help facilitate those conversations, this post includes 5 ways that senior leaders can get comfortable talking about digital.

First, let’s get this out of the way: No one expects you to be an expert. In fact, a lot of the time the best thing that you can do is to leave the day-to-day details to the people who do this work every day.

What we need you to be is open and aware. We need you to be equipped with knowledge of the spaces that you’re managing and the ability to speak the language that’s relevant to the choices that you’re making.

What we’re talking about is Digital Literacy. That’s the ability to dig into a digital advertising report and understand that the Actions on a Facebook Ads report are very different than Actions on a Google Analytics report. We need you to be able to ask smart questions of your agencies and of your team to guide them in the right direction when they’re debating an influencer strategy versus an SEM spend.

I’ll give you some numbers to show what I mean: This year brands in the US will spend $270 Billion in online advertising. That’s up $100 Billion from just three years ago (source). A huge percentage of that growth is being driven by medium sized businesses who are finally moving their legacy ad budgets from print/radio/TV to Facebook/Instagram/Display/YouTube/Pinterest.

Meanwhile, a 2018 PwC survey revealed that over 70% of CEOs are worried about the digital skills of their senior leadership team (source).

That means that we’ve got hundreds of Billions of dollars moving towards a space where the CEOs don’t have faith that their people can execute. That’s a problem, and I believe that it also says something about those same CEOs’ faith in their own digital skills, so we’ll just go ahead and invite them into this conversation with us.

Faith in your leadership team is one thing, results are another. What’s the risk of being the type of leadership team that simply allocates resources to smart people and lets them worry about the details? Let’s look at two major risks in that type of leadership:

1. Resource allocation. There will never be a time when your budget will stretch far and wide enough to cover everything that you want to do and take advantage of every opportunity. It’s just not going to happen. Your primary role as a senior leader is to allocate scarce resources to the highest yield opportunities, and then lead your teams to make the best possible use of them.

If you can’t sit through a presentation from a new ad network sales rep and know exactly what they’re pitching, and where they’re fudging the numbers (they almost all do), then how can you possibly make the best possible choices for your resources?

That’s where your team comes in, right? Let’s talk about that.

2. Leading smart people. The best people want to be in roles where they can grow and develop. They want a leader who can coach them upwards, not one who will give them the freedom to run in circles without real guidance.

Let’s say that you’re lucky – that you’ve put together a group of A+ players who are subject matter experts at what they do. They will be fired up to take advantage of the opportunities that they see, and there will be a lot of them.

They’ll line up at your desk, armed with decks and spreadsheets that show exactly what, where, and why you should increase your budget in each of their areas. But you only have so much to spend. Where do you allocate it?

So where’s the balance? What can we do as leaders to make sure that we have the right amount of knowledge to allocate our resources and lead our teams, but not get stuck so far in the weeds that we lose the bigger picture?

Learn the language. Once the jargon is out of the way, it’s incredible how much simpler all of this stuff becomes. Here are a few places to get started (apologies in advance – a lot of these resources have lead-generation pop-ups because they’re businesses trying to make a buck, too):

Ask your teams/agencies. Ask them what they’re excited about right now, and what they wish their leaders knew more about. If you have the right people in place, they’ll almost certainly be able to direct you to the best blogs/videos/resources to bring yourself up to speed. They may even be out there creating some of that content themselves.

Take a course. Digital courses are being taught at several institutions, and because of the depth of the topics, most of them end up being high level strategic overviews by nature. My personal favourite is one that I’ve taught on nights and weekends for several years, it’s called the Digital Marketing Certificate Course and it’s offered by Brainstation in Vancouver and Toronto.

Be curious. Add in digital authors to your regular reading habits. If you like email newsletters, try Digiday, WeRSM, and our very own weekly: The Brief. If you’re a podcast listener, go with Masters of Scale or Duct Tape Marketing. Books: try Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan HollidayHooked by Nir Eyal, and Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug.

Get executive training. Here’s where we come in. We’ve trained dozens of seniors leaders on digital topics, breaking down for them exactly what they need to know and what they don’t, and making the most efficient use of their time possible. We’ve always offered it on an as-needed basis for our strategy clients, and now we’re working on making personalized executive digital training available to leaders in any organization. If you could use straightforward training that’s tailored 100% for your business, then get in touch, we’d love to have a conversation.


Phone: 604-505-0444