May 6, 2022, Consulting

What skills and capabilities are required to make a digital success?

John Oxley Business Consultant
digital success
Anthony Burgess, the author of ‘A Clockwork Orange’, could speak 10 languages fluently, and he actually invented a language called Nadsat, used in the book. Now, these facts don’t have a really strong connection to this article, but in a strange way, they do play a small part.

Paraphrasing Jennifer Sparrow, Senior Director of Teaching at Penn State University, ‘Literacy is being able to read, speak and understand a new language, while fluency is being able to write a poem in that language. Digital literacy is being able to use technology, and digital fluency is being able to construct something new using it, and to switch effortlessly to a different system.’

Digital literacy and digital fluency in employees, from bottom to top, are vital to the success of any company that is in the ongoing process of digital transformation.

That blends in nicely with the title, and I am going to explore the skills and capabilities needed to optimize a business for the future.

Chief Digital Officer?

Most of the IT managers I have met seem to be ‘backroom boys’, and I don’t mean this as an insult. It’s just the way the old system worked, they weren’t the sort of people to be easily approached by a regular employee. But as times change, perhaps there needs to be a more communicative role played by that person, along with a change of title. Covid has forced many businesses to transform to digital much faster than they wanted or expected, and communication pathways are now more open than before. There is an abundance of tools to use for indirect communication, but even though some companies have remote workers, there must be a personal approach to communication, allowing all staff members to share problems or confusion.  

Firms need someone to guide them through digital adaptation and connection to the market, as well as supporting and encouraging employees to engage with new business models. This CDO must have the backing of the rest of the ‘C’ team to drive these forward.

A Chief Digital Officer needs to be up-to-date with the technology the company is and will be using, and they must stay ahead of learning curves to be proactive. Mistakes by employees should not be punished, as long as the business doesn’t suffer loss as a result. In fact, errors should be recognized as being natural in a fast changing environment. Delegation of responsibility and encouragement of innovation should be necessary components of a good CDO.

Finding highly skilled staff and keeping them

All businesses are fishing around in the talent pool for that special someone, and it isn’t easy. Keeping them is also tricky.  A survey by TalentLMS and Workable polled 1,200 IT workers in October 2021, and 72% of them said that they would probably quit in the next 12 months. Reasons cited were lack of advancement potential, inflexible working hours, and toxic working environments.

Gone are the days of 1,000 applicants for 10 jobs. Now it’s a ‘war for talent’, with fierce competition from businesses and competitors to find the right staff. But with the right tools and conditions, diamonds can be found. Many companies are investing in artificial intelligence for their HR departments, which can be used for recruitment, onboarding and development. Potential applicants can take a virtual office tour. Talent acquisition leaders can interview and assess candidates using a virtual recruitment platform.

Companies should concentrate on the few critical business areas where an A+ employee can make the most impact. What they get for what they give, the employee value proposition, is critical, and should almost be personalized. If the EVP is too vague, it’s like every other company and won’t stand out. Different people need different stimuli, whether it is having great leaders, workplace environment, rewards, or even support and empowerment.

It might be necessary for a company to look for talent farther afield, in other geographical locations. Remote working has proved to be sustainable, although HR leaders need to be aware of the complexities of unconventional hiring.

Training and development for non-digital natives

Imagine an employee who has been doing the same manual function for years, only to be confronted by new technology. Bit of a shock to the system, I would imagine. Baby boomers and GenXers cover a very large chunk of the workforce in any established business. And while they may very well have mastered their own personal digital areas, like mobile phones and laptops, they probably will need a lot of training, empathy and support to become digitally literate.

With such a fast pace of change in the digital world, information has become a commodity, and what information or knowledge we already possess is likely to be outdated very quickly. Business leaders must understand that lifelong learning is necessary to keep current, and not to fall into obsolescence.

Moving away from classroom learning, which is unpopular for most, a company has to decide how to deliver new technology and business models. Progressive software companies like Walkme and Whatfix are increasingly being used to onboard new employees and upskill current staff. The software provides customizable walkthroughs to introduce new technology, training new users to navigate their new software while minimizing IT ticket reporting. This software is mainly aimed at larger enterprises, and can be quite pricey. Collaboration between teams and individuals can be improved by using one of the many communication tools, for example MS Teams and Google Workspace, allowing people to use the knowledge base in the company. 

The entire workforce needs to be, at least, digitally literate for their own workplace performance, and supported by senior management through enablement and empowerment. This includes functional, participational and developmental tools. If a company uses outside service providers and contractors, there is a possibility of adding a clause to the contract requesting 10% of their time being allocated to staff training. Digitally capable staff are essential to success, and they should be viewed, and treated, as such.

Carl Sagan once said ‘We live in a society exquisitely dependent on Science and Technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about Science and Technology.’ This must change.