Achieving ‘digital competence’ is becoming a strategic priority for almost every organisation. But few companies are really equipped to prosper, says David Barrett.
Many people wrongly assume that digital competence means being proficient with technology. It’s not about whether or not you can use Excel or mobile devices – and it’s 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 European Union’s key competencies for lifelong learning. And it goes beyond age; it isn’t something that uniquely applies to young people. It affects all of us and how we work.
In the days of Don Draper, the fictional creative director of a Manhattan advertising firm in the TV series Mad Men, 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 expected to connect with others and collaborate in different settings, liaising with different stakeholders. They’ll often have to source their own information to succeed and the tools they use change rapidly as new technologies, systems and processes are introduced.
In other words, the workplace has shifted from being highly-dependent to independent. The way that people interact has changed significantly. However in some organisations there is a poor fit between the jobs they want to fill and the skills they’re looking for in new employees. They might be trying to recruit a Zuckerberg but actually they’re using the same recruitment model that appointed Don Draper.
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 didn’t fit the requirements. Six years later, Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19.3 billion. Mistakes can be costly!
At cut-e, we propose that 12 competencies are important for today’s knowledge workers. We’ve grouped these into four areas: explorer, thinker, socialiser and achiever and they include specific competencies such as creating vision, inspiring people, transforming teams and embracing novelty. We’re currently validating an assessment that will test for these competencies and predict whether an individual will be an effective knowledge worker in a digital context.
Making the change
However, three issues need to be addressed before digital skills can be fully embedded in an organisation:
1. Culture. ‘Breaking habits’ is part of digital competence. New starters 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 don’t value the requisite mindset and skills, you’re not going to be able to appoint digitally-competent people.
2. 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 require a change of role for the CIO, from managing IT and risk to becoming a champion of change.
3. Education. Governments and educational institutions must take steps to adequately teach 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.
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