Think more like a start-up to embrace digital, says Accenture

Organisations could mirror the behaviour of 'digital disruptors' such as taxi app Uber. Rex.

The race to embrace digital is well underway, but many leaders struggle to know where to start. A new report from Accenture Strategy looks at some of the ways that organisations can cope with, and get the best from, these changes. 

Many employers believe that the single biggest barrier to becoming a successful digital business is a lack of suitable skills, but this is something of a chicken and egg situation.

The challenge is that, because many leaders are unsure of the steps to take to move forward, they are also unclear about what skills are required to help them get there.

And because they do not necessarily have the right expertise in place to assist, they are adopting a wait-and-see approach in the hope of learning from others’ mistakes.

These are the findings of Accenture Strategy’s research, based on a survey of 2,500 workers and 500 business leaders across the EU.

Colin Sloman, the organisation’s managing director, explains: “Everyone agrees on the benefits of becoming a digital business, but they’re not sure how to get there, maybe because things are moving so fast.

“So a lot of leaders are stuck in old mindsets and aren’t thinking as if they worked for a start-up, which is important when a lot of industries are starting to see disruptive new entrants.”

The “start-up” behaviours he is talking about include:

  • being willing to experiment, test, fail and learn;
  • ensuring that people, processes and organisational structures are organised for speed, thus enabling agile ways of working;
  • considering how to exploit new organisational styles such as crowdsourcing ideas and tapping into virtual networks of talent;
  • supporting different forms of collaboration across the enterprise; and
  • hiring people who are willing to learn, seek out new ideas and apply them in fresh ways.

Supporting change

While such a shift may prove substantial for some organisations, one manageable way of starting to explore these behaviours is to create an internal incubator, Sloman suggests.

This involves creating a special team to look at and interpret what is going on both inside and outside the organisation and explore their own and other people’s ideas around what possible action could be taken.

“So they would look perhaps at how to “Uber” themselves. Or explore how to respond to questions like ‘if you were a digital disrupter, what would you do to our business and where would you attack us?’, the idea being that if you don’t, someone else will,” Sloman said.

As for HR’s role in all of this, as the organisation starts becoming more comfortable with change, HR will play a key role in identifying what kind of skills are required, and how best to go about attracting them.

For instance, rather than train up pilots who fly planes in future, air forces might instead need to take on digital natives with hacking skills who will sit in a bunker, fly drones and analyse the resultant data.

But this will be a major shift for some, concludes Sloman: “HR will have to wake up and hire people that it possibly wouldn’t have thought of employing in a thousand years. It’ll require a big change of mindset.”

Cath Everett

About Cath Everett

Cath has been a journalist and editor for more than 20 years, specialising in HR and technology issues.
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