Business leaders failing to upskill their teams on digital

New research from PwC builds a case for skills training - as opposed to hiring - to succeed on digital initiatives.

Canadian executives should be focused on closing what PwC calls the “say-do gap” by upskilling their existing employees – as opposed to hiring for skills – according to the consultancy’s latest global look into companies’ digital competencies.

According to the firm’s annual “Digital IQ” report, 27% of Canadian execs identify a lack of “suitably skilled teams” as being their largest barrier to success on digital initiatives. But rather than look to train their employees, many are hoping new hires can help fill the gap.

Canadian organizational leaders are less keen to train their teams in new tech-driven competencies, such as AI, automation and blockchain, than their global counterparts, according to PwC. Thirty-two percent look to hire employees with the relevant tech skills, compared to 36% globally. Meanwhile, only 27% say they prefer to train their workers on new tech – far fewer than the 40% of global leaders.

In addition, the survey highlights the digital skills Canadian decision-makers are prioritizing, revealing important gaps in the areas of employee experience (EX) and customer experience (CX).

Canadian respondents have been prioritizing digital strategy and planning and agile development with 37% and 32% identifying them as priority areas, compared to 35% and 26% of global execs. At the same time, they tend to underestimate the value of user experience and human-centred design (28% versus 36%), emerging tech (19% versus 27%) and cyber-security and privacy (17% versus 28%).

“This suggests [Canadian business leaders] are less positive overall about the actual digital skill sets they have within their organization, versus their overall plan, about which they were more positive,” note the authors of the report.

EX is “critical to financial performance of an organization,” according to PwC, but Canadian leaders’ emphasis on strategy and planning, which is inherently more top-down, has left employees disconnected from those objectives. In turn, that makes their employees less likely to use their digital skills and tools in trying to maximize customer experience.

On the whole, fewer Canadian businesses (74%) have a leader that’s taken ownership of EX than the global average of 91%. And only 74% of Canadian respondents said they have made the business case for having a dedicated CX leader; more often than businesses globally, the discipline falls on the shoulders of human resources.

But there are still what PwC refers to as “encouraging signs.” Forty-four percent of Canadian respondents said they’re currently investing at least 5% to 10% of their revenue into digital, with CX being one of their top three priorities.

However, increased attention to CX has been accompanied by EX falling further down the priority list. “Whatever the reason, the inability to tie a return on investment to EX has perhaps stalled Canadian executives in making it a bigger priority.”