Successful Organizations Need Digital Intelligence

Digital intelligence means being curious about new tools and open to working with new technologies that can bring value to an organization.

digital intelligence - training magazine

Over the last twenty-plus years, we’ve witnessed the acceleration of all things digital. New technologies are emerging at breakneck speeds. Tools like Slack and Zoom are changing the way we communicate and collaborate. Artificial intelligence (AI) is being used to automate tasks and surface more data than ever before. And on top of that, the pandemic has caused a significant portion of the workforce to move online—we all rely on technology to get our jobs done more now than ever before.

To help prepare for (and thrive in) this changing reality, employees of all levels need to learn to embrace digital intelligence. Digital intelligence is the set of key capabilities needed to succeed in a world driven by technology—it’s not only a foundational awareness of technologies but also a new way of thinking about how we do our work.

To be digitally intelligent is to be open to new tools, to be curious about new ways of working and the different ways technology could bring new value to an organization. But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to become a programmer or engineer overnight.

Anyone, regardless of their role, can start embracing digital intelligence. Here’s how:

  • Adopt (and maintain) a digital mindset
  • Foster a digital culture
  • Harness the power of data
  • Surface and act on digital opportunities

Of course, that’s easy to say and harder to do. Let’s take a closer look at each of these pillars of digital intelligence.

Thinking digital

A digital mindset isn’t just knowing how to use technology. Rather, it means being open to learning constantly. Learning about new tools, new sources of information, and new perspectives leads to opportunities for your team and organization.

Let’s see it in action: a group of marketers has used the same analytics software for five years to track customer purchases. When they embrace a digital mindset, they revaluate this process and explore new AI-driven data collection tools—leading to entirely new insights into their customers’ preferences.

Having a digital mindset includes being open to exploring emerging technologies around social media, big data, AI, and more. The world is shifting too rapidly for people to stay content with knowing what they already know. Being open to new technologies allows employees to see if anything is worth applying to the organization in order to solve a problem, spark a new idea, or just make things run more smoothly.

Embracing digital as a team

A key aspect of putting digital intelligence to work is giving leaders the tools they need to foster a digital culture on their teams—a culture that doesn’t just try to keep pace with the digital world but fully embraces it. This doesn’t mean becoming full-blown experts in digital technology, but instead being able to get all members of a team to buy into a certain technology. Everyone on the team should have a baseline level of technical fluency, and if upskilling is needed, then it is up to leaders to make sure it is happening. To get buy-in across a team and build a successful digital team culture, leaders should focus on the following:

  • Respect
  • Connectivity
  • Learning
  • Communication

If these four pillars are in place, leaders will be primed for creating a digital culture on their team.

Learning to speak data

Learning to speak data doesn’t require becoming fully fluent. Rather, it can be seen as acquiring a “traveler’s vocabulary,” where leaders know enough to get and use data effectively in their role. When it comes to using data, there are key questions that need to be addressed.

  • Who on your team can access the data? Can they see the raw data? Can they look differently at it?
  • Is the data complete, consistent, and timely? Is the data collected in a way that’s unbiased? If there are biases, are you aware of them?
  • What insights can you derive from the data? Are you spotting any trends or patterns? Does what you’re seeing confirm what you suspected?

Once you have determined that you have access to accurate data, and are able to glean insights from it, you’re speaking data. After that, it’s time to put these learnings to use.

Acting on digital opportunities

The best data or coolest technology doesn’t mean anything if it’s not being put to good use. Once you and your team have embraced a digital mindset, culture, and you’re all speaking data, the opportunities will begin to become apparent. The challenge will then be sorting through them to decide where to put your team’s resources. The easiest way to do this? Rank potential courses of action using two contrasting factors: cost (time, money, people, etc.) and potential value (financial, gained efficiency, employee well-being, etc.).

While diving into the opportunity you’ve chosen to pursue, remember to think iteratively and treat it as an experiment. For instance, if your team chooses to adopt a new digital collaboration platform, make sure you have some form of measurement to gauge whether or not the platform is meeting your needs. If not, time to keep exploring and experimenting.

To participate fully in the digital future, digital intelligence is a requisite for leaders throughout the organization. It is up to the organization as a whole to ensure that its leaders are given the tools and environment they need to adapt as quickly and as seamlessly as possible.

Ryan Kehr
Ryan Kehr is a content development manager at Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University.