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Eighty-eight percent of organisations are undergoing a digital transformation BUT just 25% understand what it really means. Many companies mistake digital transformation as synonymous with AI, IoT, Blockchain, Deep Learning, Virtual Reality or any other new age technology.
As predictions abound that machines will run the world in the future, it’s no surprise then that the most crucial element, people, the digital workforce, is often subsumed to give technology a larger-than-life image.
But companies that succeed in digital transformation understand the importance of a robust digital talent layer. Because ‘a tool is only as good as its user’ – technology’s effectiveness is ultimately dependent on the capability of those who employ it.
For such companies, the need for building a digital workforce that possesses continually relevant skills and competencies has never been more crucial than now. Clearly, the Cambrian explosion in the technology world, marked by the pace and magnitude of technological advancements has led to the emergence of new roles and skills.
Of Opportunities and Threats
With roles such as Data Scientists, Cloud Architects, User Experience Designers gaining mainstream prominence within the last five years or so, the list of new roles continues to only grow. On the flip side, organisations are also grappling with rapid obsolescence of existing roles. Not just that, soft skills such as communication, collaboration and leadership have become much more critical than hard skills.
For instance, software development has changed in ways that would’ve been difficult to imagine only a decade ago. Continuous integration, continuous deployment, behaviour driven development, test driven development – the list goes on. If software development was once thought to have been the ideal career for geeks and introverts, people who enjoyed working at their own pace, the scene has now assumed a high social quotient. What were once quiet corridors with silence broken by occasional greetings, are now transformed into high activity zones. Daily stand-up meetings and code reviews have become the norm. Frequent communication with team members, collaborating on not just building code but also deploying it is the new convention. With the emergence of methodologies such as DevOps, the once sacrosanct line between development and operations teams has started to blur. Increased automation of downstream activities such as testing and support has meant that teams comprise members who can each manage all parts of the value chain, from development to deployment.
5 Common Pitfalls
Phrases such as “New Ways of Working” have been coined by companies that’ve started to embrace practices such as Agile, DevOps and Continuous Delivery. Employees following such methodologies is only one part of the story. But is this enough? With many existing roles in danger of being phased out, what about people’s ability to learn and apply new skills?
In my opinion, organisations looking to build a competitive digital talent base must avoid these five common mistakes –
- Lack of alignment with company strategy
When the very definition of what constitutes a competitor, a partner, or even a customer has become increasingly fluid, there’s a real need for transformation strategies to be accompanied by shared contextual understanding across all levels of a company. Even before people adapt to new ways of working, they must internalise “New Ways of Thinking”, developing greater awareness about their work and skills in the context of ever evolving external and internal ecosystems.
- Favouring ‘urgent’ over important
Organisations classic response to improve or build employee skills has been to put employees through trainings but which largely address siloed problems – limited to teams or projects, often with no clear links to the long term corporate or departmental strategy.
The solution? Strategic Workforce Planning (SWP) helps companies plan for not just their current or short-term needs but also future requirements. Studies show that just under 30% companies refresh SWP at least twice a year, whereas the rest complete it just once in 2-3 years. Done right, SWP can help companies anticipate the changes and accordingly adapt by designing appropriate upskilling interventions.
- Missing Self-Empowerment
The natural response to any change is resistance. Status quo bias comes into play in a major way as employees are faced with changes in their operating environment and interpret those changes as even resulting in the loss of a professional identity that many would’ve carried for years. Continual and fast paced learning is a daunting challenge for many employees who find it difficult to unlearn old skills and learn new skills. And therein lies the biggest challenge for most transformation programs – mindset change. All the coaching, mentoring and support can only do so much. Only those employees who are willing to overcome their fear of failure by seeking opportunities to learn and apply their conceptual skills are likely to succeed in a fast-changing world.
- Prioritising only technical skills
A recent survey states that nearly 60% organisations face a gap in soft digital skills, compared to 50% that are grappling with hard digital skills’ gap, with 54% acknowledging that the gaps are adversely affecting their digital transformation efforts. Customer-centricity, passion for learning, collaboration and entrepreneurial mindset top the list of skills where there are pronounced gaps between organisational needs and employee proficiency levels.
Though companies agree soft skills are important, the emphasis is largely on technical skills. A crucial differentiator therefore, would be creating learning programs that integrate both hard skills and soft skills, rather than administering them separately. In fact, software development methodologies such as DevOps and Agile are as much about behavioural competencies as they are about technical competencies.
- Ineffective metrics and shoddy governance
Simply offering to upskill employees without setting correct metrics will make it difficult to not just monitor but also encourage the right attitude towards learning. Companies could consider implementing two types of metrics – input and output metrics. Input metrics require certain pre-requisites be met for the outcomes to be regarded as effective. For instance, if the output metric is “demonstrable expertise in skill X”, then the input metric would be “N number of published articles on the company intranet” or “N number of knowledge sharing sessions conducted internally”. Irrespective of whether companies implement input and output metrics or just output metrics, establishing a strong governance mechanism to track the progress and refine the metrics, where needed, is an imperative.
“People skills are more and more important in an era where we have powerful and pervasive technology. It sounds counterintuitive, but to beat the bot, you need to be more human.” – Paul Roehrig, Chief Strategy Officer, Cognizant Digital Business
It’s time to bring in a new kind of focus to nurture an organisation’s finest asset, most valuable resource and its biggest competitive advantage – human capital.
Just as digital transformation is a journey and not a destination, investing in and developing an adaptive digital workforce is a never-ending journey. But if done right, the return on performance from such a talent base would be a significant factor in companies’ sustainable growth stories.
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