How to build a digitally competent workforce

Organisations should build competencies similar to those of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, rather than Don DraperDavid Rodriguez Rico/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock
Organisations should build competencies similar to those of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, rather than Don Draper
David Rodriguez Rico/SIPA/REX/Shutterstock

Transitioning from post-industrial skills to digital competence must be a strategic priority for every organisation, says Diego Martinez from cut-e.

Today’s most successful organisations are undergoing a transformation from “post-industrial skills” to “digital competence”.

This is a fundamental change, but many people still wrongly assume that digital competence means being proficient with technology.

But it is not about whether or not you can use Excel or mobile devices – and it is not about leveraging the internet or automating back-office functions.

Digital competence is the attitude and ability that enables employees to embrace technology, collaborate with others and work effectively in a modern, digital environment.

It is one of the EU’s key competencies for lifelong learning. And it is not something that uniquely applies to young people. It affects all of us and how we work.

Knowledge workers

Post-industrial skills are typified by Don Draper, the fictional creative director of a Manhattan advertising firm, from the TV series Mad Men.

In those days, employees had set tasks and goals to fulfil and they interacted with each other in a fixed, physical environment. Their leader would tell them what to work on and the tools they needed to do their jobs were constant and clearly defined.

In contrast, digital competence is typified by Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg.

Today’s “knowledge workers” are not given set tasks to complete; they are expected to connect with others and collaborate in different settings, liaising with different stakeholders.

They will often have to source their own information to succeed. The tools they use change rapidly as new technologies, systems and processes are introduced.

The democratisation of technology now allows greater sharing of information. Employees will access cloud storage, databases, project management tools and they will work in virtual teams, contacting “faceless” support staff when they have a query.

In other words, the workplace is shifting from being highly dependent to independent.

Change your model

The way that people interact has changed significantly. Digital competence is now needed in every job, yet many businesses are unequipped to prosper.

Some have yet to realise the scale of the challenge they are facing in making this transition. They might be looking to recruit a Zuckerberg but, actually, they are using the same process that appointed Don Draper.

If you do not change your post-industrial model, you will continue to recruit old-school workers.

But they are not what is needed. There is a poor fit between the jobs most organisations are looking to fill and the skills they are looking for in new employees.

Zuckerberg himself was guilty of this. One of the founders of the instant messaging application WhatsApp was rejected by Facebook when he applied for an internship because he did not fit the requirements.

Six years later, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19.3 billion. Mistakes can be costly.

We believe there are 12 competencies that are important for today’s knowledge workers.

These can be grouped into four areas: explorer, thinker, socialiser and achiever. These are profiles used by gaming companies and we believe there are similarities between the underlying demands of digital working and online multiplayer gaming.

cut-e is currently validating an assessment that will test for these competencies and predict whether or not an individual will be an effective knowledge worker in a digital context.

What are the competencies?

Explorer
• Exploring trends – the curiosity to learn about new developments and apply them at work.
• Promoting diversity – the ability to work in diverse and multicultural teams and be open to different opinions.
• Breaking habits – the potential to act courageously, challenge fixed mindsets and make changes when necessary.


Thinker
• Creating vision – the potential to anticipate needs, consider different perspectives and propose ideas.
• Problem analysis – the potential to analyse complex information and present it simply.
• Absorbing expertise – the ability to source knowledge and implement that learning.


Socialiser
• Transforming teams – the potential to empower and develop teams.
• Connecting talent – the potential to network.
• Inspiring people – the ability to communicate through different channels and persuade others.


Achiever
• Embracing novelty – the flexibility to respond to change.
• Generating solutions – the potential to act quickly and choose the appropriate resources to resolve different problems.
• Hitting targets – the ability to respond efficiently and meet the needs of different parties.

Making the change

The above competencies should form the foundation of any digital transformation programme.

They offer a framework that can instigate a whole new way of working. However, some other issues need to be addressed before digital skills can be fully embedded in all functions.

The first is culture. Digital competencies require a change of culture in organisations. For example, “breaking habits” is hard for new starters in a typical organisation.

They may join with this competency but it can be quickly stamped out of them if they come up against a manager who refuses to change or to listen to new ideas.

Recruiting new talent with digital skills will have a transformational impact.

Changing the people you recruit will, in time, change the culture of your organisation and establish new ways of thinking.

However, if your recruitment teams do not value the requisite mindset and skills, you are not going to be able to appoint digitally competent people.

Leadership

The second is leadership. Digital transformation must be led from the top. Boards and leadership teams should set a clear vision of how their organisations will create a digitally capable culture and what this will help them achieve.

A digital skills audit can help to identify your organisation’s training and development needs.

Vodafone offers an interesting example of best practice.

They employ “digital ninjas” – young people who “reverse mentor” senior managers to help them develop their digital skills, so they can work more effectively in a digital environment.

Successful digital transformation will also require a change of role for the CIO, from managing IT and risk to becoming a champion of change.

Education

Finally, true digital transformation requires education. Educational institutions must take steps to teach adequately digital competence to young people and to help them prepare for a digital career.

Studies show that millennials want to work for digitally savvy employers, so taking appropriate action could enhance your reputation.

Achieving digital competence must be a top priority for every organisation.

If your employees are not skilled in the new way of working that is required today, your business risks being overtaken and outmanoeuvred by more adept competitors.

Diego Martinez

About Diego Martinez

Diego Martinez is a digital skills expert at international talent measurement and assessment specialist cut-e
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