CXO’s “Cheat Sheet’ to Ride the Wave of the Digital Age

For most consumers a digital life is simply second nature.

Activities unknown a few years ago are now commonplace: Instant messaging using WhatsApp, using a smartphone to compare prices while shopping, or seeking product recommendations using Facebook or simply online shopping through Souq.com or even searching for a seller of cars or homes on Dubizzle.

Yet many CEOs/CXOs don’t seem to live in this reality – okay its ‘virtuality’. After all, most of today’s senior executives built their careers in the pre-digital age and given recent events in the corporate world have been too busy chasing numbers than watch tech trends or posting on social media.

Sounds familiar? You’re not alone: While most won’t admit but I often, privately, hear from leaders that they feel left behind by the digital revolution. So here are a few practical tips on how senior executives can make the transition from analog to digital:

Be nerdy

Get your senior leaders, tech team, and marketers together to confront the critical question: If digital apps and businesses are eating the traditional companies’ lunch, how could they eat us? Even talk to digital disruptors in your industry Ask them – “How could you disrupt us? Which activities would you replace with algorithms? What advantages do we have that you can’t replicate?” You can develop a real and actionable strategy for your digital transformation.

How about learning to code? Mandate a CodeAcademy type one-day crash course for the C-level executives to learn how to write code. Even a novice can learn to write simple code in a day. It’s the digital equivalent of learning how to change a car tire.

A personal example – some months ago I signed up for three online certificate level programs in Digital Marketing, Social Media Marketing and Mobile App Development from a Dublin based company: Shaw Academy. It was hard work with the online lectures starting at 11 PM UAE time and assignments and quizzes to boot. To my surprise I did as well as or better than most in my class full of millenials. My investment in lifelong learning was a lesson in how I can understand the world that digital natives live in and can speak their language.

Look beyond your navel

Get a news feed of tech developments in your industry in your Google News feed. Wake up to a 6 to 5 formula ie. 5 minutes to learn about the news in your chosen area at 6 am (Okay if your are a late rise change 6 to another number!)– it could be AI, Blockchain, Robotics, Deep Learning, 5G or anything else that catches your fancy. How about tweeting what you like or publishing on your LinkedIn profile? Its easy – just choose share on the article and broadcast. The unintended benefit is the comments and feedback that will enhance your network and help you get different perspectives.

Hold regular meetings with innovators. When executives are working in mind-numbing dog-eat-dog world, it’s easy to miss what’s going on in the outside world. Invite young innovators (start-ups, students) to come in; you may find new talent to hire or new options to pursue. It also improves the perception of the company as one that’s receptive to fresh thinking.

UX is everything

For example mobile – Billions of consumers have a smartphone in their pocket. Think about what you, your colleagues or family members like doing on the mobile, and then honestly consider what your company is putting on that small screen. Does it make consumers’ lives better, easier, faster? Are you putting their needs first or optimizing for a marketing campaign?

You’ll be amazed at how many things you could do better.

Don’t ignore that app everyone’s using. Download it; engage with it. Do you have an Instagram account, do you pin on Pinterest, do you rent your holiday home from Airbnb? It’s time you did. I know some of you are still stuck with Facebook and WhatsApp as the highest level of smartphone apps but you will be amazed at how much value you mobile apps can deliver to your life.

Simple tools like Dubai RTA app, DEWA app can simplify your life immensely – pay for parking, remember when and how to order a Dubai taxi, pay traffic fines (Hmm), car registration, Salik top up (aargh yes) can all be done by simply linking your card/bank account and then selecting the service you need.

Still puzzled? Ask the digital natives in your own home – your kids. Believe me you will be wiser about app world with just a couple of conversations.

Mingle with digital natives

Find a ‘digital native mentor.’ Ask that funky new hire to send you snippets to guide you through the digital world. Whenever you are hiring someone in the company for tech functions – insist on interviewing the smartest candidates. Not only will you understand their world but soon become fluent in their language.

In digital – devil is in the detail

Get involved – seek a dashboard of what improvements in your website, mobile apps, CRM, ERP are planned over the next few months. What’s being launched in the next release? How will it enhance the customer experience? Ease of use, aesthetic design and a ‘wow’ user experience is something you should be passionate about.

This world moves fast – learn how to keep up with it. Train yourself and others to ‘do more with less’ e.g. Finish your meetings in half the time. Ask how you can complete a task in one month rather than six. Favor quick-and-dirty work-arounds over purpose-built solutions. Set a culture of try, fail fast, learn, move on. And don’t reinvent the wheel. For example – Instead of costly workplace communication solutions with our spread out teams in UAE, Pakistan, India, South Africa we simply created WhatsApp groups with different project work-streams as names of the groups to facilitate open and instant communication.

These are simply guidelines drawn from experience – start with one or two and see how easily they fit into your everyday routine. They may be small, but their collective impact on you and your company could be enormous. Have fun!

-Ajay Shukla

References – McKinsey reports and articles.

I am the Owner of this educational search portal to facilitate the students to pick up the desired programs.

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