Mission Critical: Essential Skills for the Future

July 24, 2020 Charlotte Schaller

First published on LinkedIn


In 2019, few could have predicted that the workforce of 2020 would be completely reshaped by a novel virus pandemic. And yet here we are. Planning for the future of work has always been a top priority for companies, but today it is mission critical.

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated already in motion large-scale disruptions to work, such as an increasing reliance on high-speed mobile internet, the rise of remote workers, shifting labor demographics and new regulations. Regardless of the source of disruption, the digital future will require a new set of skills, behaviors and ways of working.

Most organizations haven’t defined the critical competencies needed to compete in an age of disruption and do not have a process in place to assess digital readiness in their own people. Only 41% of HR leaders say their organizations have a defined set of skills needed for their digital transformation, according to Aon’s Organizational Digital Readiness survey. And just a quarter of executives rated their organization’s digital transformation efforts highly and said that they have the critical competencies in place.

Digital transformation clearly will require a mix of digital readiness and leadership skills. Which ones are most important?

Start With the Foundational Skills

Digital skills are expensive and likely short-lived. Testing for behaviors highlighted as critical digital competencies is better because behaviors last longer and are more predictable of superior performance than skills testing.

Foundational digital skills, such as learnability, agility and curiosity, are the table stakes needed to prepare for digital transformation. All three show significant correlations to better employee performance. Understanding and developing these competencies will allow your workforce to be flexible, seek self-improvement and remain open to change and novelty. This, in return, allows them to more easily re- or upskill as roles evolve and requirements change.

Assessing and identifying these competencies effectively will be more important for employers than ever before. Employers must both identify workers who rate highly for these traits and support a model of lifelong learning to ensure their people continually grow and adapt.

Remember that critical competencies for digital transformation, such as adaptability and agility, are not the same as skills needed to use specific digital tools. However, there are many significant correlations between scores on the digital readiness model and digital technical skills, so using the competencies does predict digital skill level. For example, if workers score high on agility, it correlates highly with attitude toward using digital tools at work. Those that score high on learnability, report a high level of understanding of how to get the most from digital tools.

Cultivate Digital Leadership

Leaders also need to be aware of their shortcomings, too. 

Future leaders will need skills critical to leading digital readiness efforts, such as championing collaboration and showing a drive to lead. These skills are particularly important in cross-functional teams.

Leaders also need to be aware of their shortcomings, too. A sense of humility and empowerment will help ensure they have the right skills around them to supplement themselves and empower their people in the right ways.

These digital leadership skills are linked to candidates’ motivations and values and can be measured through talent assessments. By setting up a “success profile” — a description of the behaviors that a successful job incumbent shows — you can begin recognizing digital-ready leaders.

This gives you an edge in succession planning, too. Once you know what “digital leadership” means to your organization, it’s easy to pinpoint the candidates who display those behaviors. This allows you to lay the groundwork for the future of your organization’s leadership.

Prepare for the Future

Disruption is the new norm for our economy. Companies around the world face immense questions about how to move forward and build a workforce that is agile enough to adapt to an uncertain future. Digital readiness in this environment also requires supplemental, future-facing skills, including business acumen, handling data and mental endurance.

A person with these critical skills can identify the complex challenges a company faces and suggest innovative solutions and ideas to solve them. These kinds of strong analytic and critical thinking abilities will be the keys to building a nimble, digitally ready workforce. A learning mindset focused on growth and positivity will be essential for workers to thrive in a volatile, ever-changing future.

Are you interested in knowing more about the Future of Work? We asked over 1,500 HR leaders how they are dealing with it - read our report here.

About the Author

Charlotte Schaller

Charlotte joined Aon's Assessment Solutions in January 2015. Since joining she has worked across a breadth of projects including design and delivery of digital assessment and development centres, situational judgment tools, creation of online bespoke ability tests and team building workshops. She now heads the UK team; driving the growth of the UK market, managing talent and driving learning and development within the team, ensuring high quality delivery and service to their wide variety of existing clients.

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