Talent first is the key to thriving in the digital economy

News & Views

I don’t know if you’ve thought about this but the next generation of workers are currently preparing for jobs that don’t yet exist and there are technologies that haven’t been invented yet which we’ll need to solve problems that we haven’t even identified as problems. 

One of the facets of good leadership is the ability to anticipate and prepare for the future, but what once seemed a long way off, has presented itself to us with alarming speed. As The Economist recently noted, one of the biggest impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic will be “the infusion of data-enabled services into ever more aspects of life.” 

Digital transformation has now become an imperative for organisations. It is no longer about whether your business ‘does digital’ but more about shaping the entire organisation around a data-driven customer-centric view and inhabiting the digital world in the way you inhabit the analogue one.  Because it involves the whole organisation, business leaders need to understand what new capabilities the business will need and how that might change company structure and culture. In a very real sense, digital transformation is about people, not technology.

Technology is omnipresent, easy to buy and costs are falling. But the ability to adapt to this digital future really depends on developing the skill sets of the next generation and closing the gap between the supply and demand for talent.

The key to this is talent agility. The ability to change the talent composition of the business, quickly and efficiently means understanding all the levers you need to pull to acquire, develop and retain talent. The more agile your talent pool the easier it will be for your business to reshape itself to address a more consistently shifting landscape.

In order to sustain momentum with digital transformation there are 5 key considerations to enable talent agility in the business.

  1. Empower your workforce to embrace change – Many people are worried that the pace of change will impact their jobs or make them obsolete, which is not great for morale. Providing proper training for digital adoption, allowing them to take ownership of the change and fully understand why it is happening will help to empower and encourage participation rather than stoking fear.
  2. Plan for skills – New technology and hybrid working practices will require new skill sets. So consider upskilling the existing workforce to address talent scarcity and skill gaps. One of humanity’s greatest strengths is the ability to adapt. Skills can be taught and often it is less costly to train someone in something new than it is to replace them.  Ensure teams have the training and opportunities they need to thrive in the new environment.
  3. Adapt to the culture shift – Employees have adapted to remote conditions and had their eyes opened to new and arguably healthier ways of working. Although a hybrid form of work is the most likely scenario, it has and will continue to exert and influence company culture. In order to retain the best talent, companies will need to create conditions where employees aren’t afraid to ask questions or challenge existing ideas so that they are committed to the business goals.
  4. Employee engagement becomes more important – Engaged employees are easier to retain. As with the shift in company culture, doing more of this remotely presents its challenges. Businesses will need to find new ways to keep employees interested and happy so that even when they are not in the office they can still participate in work activities. Creating a sense of belonging without physical presence is a new challenge for most leaders.
  5. Take diversity seriously – Homogenous teams might be easier to manage but having the same types of thinkers, with similar backgrounds and experiences doesn’t do anything for better problem solving or innovation. Developing talent agility requires businesses to look outside their comfort zone and develop cross-functional and collaborative teams with a diverse set of skills.

Digital transformation is imperative but no one said it would be easy. People don’t always react positively to change. Life is easier in our comfort zone. But the world has changed and businesses need to change too if they are to thrive. They need to build a business that is both customer and employee-centric so that they are able to adapt more quickly to changing needs. But it is important to remember that agility is always people-led and technology supported, so when it comes to future-proofing the business, it is your talent, not technology that you must look to first.

By Rachel O’Sullivan

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