As we discussed in the previous article ‘Why isn’t our Digital Transformation progressing faster?’ the key challenge to a successful digital transformation is about People and Organization, not Technology. We have already discussed Mindsets and Behaviors in a separate article ‘How Leaders can develop Workforce Mindsets and Behaviors that accelerate Digital Transformation’. In this article we touched upon the readiness of the workforce for digital transformation from an attitude perspective. Attitude is of course a healthy platform for change. But what about the abilities, skills and capabilities that our people need as well? In this article we break down the key requirements of Digital Literacy across the workforce, Specialized Capabilities and Soft Skills that organizations need to build, buy and borrow to succeed in this Digital World.
The right abilities, skills and capabilities are foundational aspects of any successful well scaled business. And the widespread adoption of a digital approach requires a minimum level of digital literacy across the workforce. Of course, the quantification of what is considered ‘minimum’ will certainly vary from business to business. The BCS Digital Literacy for Life Programme defines digital literacy as ‘Those capabilities that mean an individual is fit for living, learning and working in a digital society’ (French, 2014). These capabilities can include basics such as how to use hardware and software common to most businesses, the fairly ubiquitous Microsoft Office products for instance. Additionally, aspects such as managing online identities, securing credentials appropriately and evaluating digital assets are all also critically important parts of this domain.
However, it is an area that is often found lacking. A large research project by the OECD reported (OECD, 2016) that approximately only 31 percent of the population of participating countries demonstrated more than basic abilities in core information and communications technology and problem-solving skills in technology-rich environments. Only 5.4 percent demonstrated advanced skills in these areas. Naturally, a workforce where the majority already possess the abilities to effectively use digital technologies will also adopt digital solutions in the workplace much faster.
Aside from the core competence that applies to the entire workforce of being digitally literate, there are several specific and constantly evolving capabilities that companies need in order to thrive in the digital landscape of today. Higher level specialized capabilities such as Data Science, Artificial Intelligence, User Experience and Internet of Things are rapidly becoming, or have become, requirements for companies to master. These capabilities are likely to be located within a specialized group of people within the company, although a general understanding of concepts and implications should be considered part of the general digital literacy of the workforce. ‘All technological skills, both advanced and basic, will see a substantial growth in demand. Advanced technologies require people who understand how they work and can innovate, develop, and adapt them’ (Bughin et al., 2018). These highly focussed capabilities are often required by the company to solve specific business problems.
Companies who need to build such capabilities typically face a set of options:
- Build: Train the existing workforce
- Buy: Hire new people who have the required capabilities.
- Borrow: Access external experts or outsource the work to a partner.
Each of these options has advantages and challenges and rarely work on their own.
To balance speed, cost, quality and effectiveness, companies may choose to outsource a new capability (for example Artificial Intelligence) in the short term, whilst initiating a recruitment drive for people who have the required capabilities. Alongside this, members of the existing workforce can be trained, thus over a period of time eliminating the dependency on the external party.
But which capabilities should an organization focus on and invest in? Organizations should identify the core competencies of their business, those that are essential for strategic differentiation and delivering unique value to customers. These will make up the capabilities to focus on developing and investing in, whereas others, more transactional or short-lived ones, can be covered with the most cost-effective solution to cover the requirement.
As change becomes ever more present in businesses, so too does the requirement for a workforce with the soft skills to thrive in this environment. In a discussion (CNBC, 2018) on CNBC’s Squawk Box, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner elaborated on company research that indicated that soft skills are the number one skill employees lack in the US.
Whilst this of course varies by Industry, Business model and job function, the key soft-skills for employees in today’s world are typically a version of the following:
- Communication. Being able to effectively communicate with co-workers, customers and other parties is essential. This is for example evident in technical roles. Those companies who have successfully re-invented their IT to be an effective partner to the Business have done so by being able to solve the right business problems. This is only possible if those who provide technical know-how can effectively communicate with Business counter parts.
- Curiosity. Openness and a desire to find new ways of doing things is what drives innovation and new business models. Curiosity and a desire to learn are key pre-requisites for this.
- Collaboration. Digital innovation is not a one-person game. It requires multiple functions and business units to collaborate and understand each other’s issues and opportunities. It requires the business-savvy to combine forces with the technology-savvy.
- Judgement and Problem Solving. In this day and age, knowledge can easily be acquired, and information is more readily available at the point of need. What to do with that information and knowledge is less clear. That judgement and being able to solve problems are important soft skills that are still reserved for humans.
Companies understand that successful Digital Transformation requires a shift in their workforce, including its skills and capabilities. Whilst some of these capabilities can be hired or borrowed in the short-term, the entire workforce needs to be enabled with a Digital literacy, the right soft skills and supported by the required specialized digital capabilities.
This needs a learning approach that enables lifelong learning, supported by an effective digital learning strategy.
Next: We explore the components of an effective digital learning strategy to develop and sustain the required skills and capabilities.
To find out how you can accelerate your organization’s Digital Transformation,
contact us for a free consultation with nepf.
French, R. (2014) Digital skills from the employers’ perspective Available at: https://www.bcs.org/content/conWebDoc/52325 (Accessed: 13 July 2018)
Bughin, J., Hazan, E., Lund, S., Dahlström, P., Wiesinger, A. and Subramaniam, A, (2018) Skill shift: Automation and the future of the workforce Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-organizations-and-work/skill-shift-automation-and-the-future-of-the-workforce (Accessed: 13 July 2018)
OECD (2016) Skills Matter: Further Results from the Survey of Adult Skills, OECD Skills Studies Available at: https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/skills-matter_9789264258051-en#page1
CNBC (2018) LinkedIn CEO on the ‘soft’ skills gap Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/video/2018/04/19/linkedin-ceo-on-the-soft-skills-gap.html (Accessed: 15 July 2018)