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Is your organization ready for the most important digital advancements of the 21st century? If you’re approaching workforce development as business as usual, you are not as prepared as you could be.

True digital transformation is more than simply implementing the latest technologies. It’s an ongoing process that requires fundamentally changing the way you and your people think about and do business. It requires broad-based investments in skills — not just projects and infrastructure. And it involves rethinking the interaction of people, machines and business processes, then continuously monitoring, intervening, experimenting and innovating.

Of the $1.3 trillion that was spent on digital transformation last year, an estimated $900 billion was wasted on efforts that did not yield intended results. That’s because most digital technologies only supply possibilities for efficiency gains and better business outcomes. If people lack the tools for change or current organizational practices are flawed, progress will be stifled.

Yet, organizations continue introducing new tools and software only to experience middling results at best — and employee frustration, lower productivity and wasted money at worst. It's common for organizations to spend millions of dollars on implementing a new system or technology but then skimp on training and support to ensure employees can use the tools effectively enough to deliver ROI, or better yet, understand how these new tools support a greater digital vision.

Cultivating a growth mindset, and approaching workforce development as an ongoing process of continual learning, is one of the most important things organizations can do to successfully navigate the long road of digital transformation.

Organizational Change Management Is Key

Without proper process, change is difficult at the individual level and even more so when scaled organizationally. Organizational change management is a disciplined approach to supporting large groups of people in adopting ways of working differently to obtain a desired business outcome. It is the most undervalued aspect of digital transformation.

For digital transformation to take root, a company must prioritize workforce development and continually reskill and upskill employees to meet the business’s evolving needs. It’s a company’s responsibility to ensure employees understand what success looks like and how they can contribute to it. Preparing employees to face constant change by equipping them with the right skills and information to yield desired business results and then collectively adapting and learning is the essence of succeeding with organizational change and digital transformation.

Related Article: Change Management: The Key to Digital Transformation

Develop the Skill Sets of the Future

The anxiety emanating from the workforce today is palpable. Our latest published research, “The Upskilling Crisis: Effectively Enabling Employees For The Future” found one-third of employees worry that their skill sets are being replaced by automation and one-quarter report that more complex skill sets are being demanded of them.

The pace of change amplifies this anxiety. Sixty percent of employees expect their current skill sets will be outdated within five years. In reality, almost every employee will need continuous upgrades of professional skills for the length of their careers. Skills with particular processes, pieces of software, or programming languages will be seen as tools for employees to pick up, learn on the fly and ultimately discard once no longer useful.  

In a tight labor market, it’s not realistic to just hire a new workforce with an entirely new skill set. Organizations must think about creating the workforce they need as opposed to hiring for it. Here’s where you should focus:

  • Adaptability and Ability to Learn: The rapid pace of change demanded by digital transformation requires that employees are equipped for the expectation and provided the opportunity to always learn something new. A job someone is hired to do today will evolve to be very different in 10 years.
  • Data Literacy and Digital Fluency: Business operators need to up-level their people’s digital literacy skills. That is the ability to read, write and communicate data in context. It includes understanding data sources and constructs, analytical methods and techniques — then being able to describe the use cases, applications and resulting value.
  • Collaboration and Creativity: Your organization must elevate cross-functional collaboration and erase the lines between the business and IT functions. Successful change stemming from innovation will involve agile methods and quick prototype development.

Related Article: Key Skills Every Digital Workplace Practitioner Needs

Define Your Future State, Identify Missing Skills

How do you get from the workforce you have to the one you need? How can you use effective organizational change management to promote continual and consistent learning to meet digital transformation goals?

First, you need a clearly defined vision for where you want to go.

  • Define a vision for what you want to achieve in the near term and articulate the business value of realizing that vision. When achieved, where will the business be? Be specific with the metrics.
  • To reach the future state, what will need to change in the business? How will the organizational structure change? Consider what happens to the business and operating model.
  • Think through what skills are needed to get to the future state. If that future state is more dependent on data and analytics, that will be an area where you need to increase workforce capacity.

Armed with a highly specific hypothesis for where the business needs to go and how it might get there, you’re ready to take the next step.

  • Compare the skills you’ll need in the future against the skills your company has at present. Done thoroughly and accurately, this skill assessment will be an uncomfortable process as it reveals gaps and roadblocks.
  • Look to assess the change climate in your organization. How easy or hard is it to change processes, procedures and attitudes? This type of assessment will help you figure out the right level of effort needed to achieve a growth mindset.
  • Cultivate an environment to reward learning. This might involve retooling performance reviews and other standard metric performance indicators. Learning new skills will lead to some “failed tests” that shouldn’t be penalized.
  • The last step should be sourcing vendors and procuring resources for learning opportunities, knowledge libraries, and trainings that will drive towards your defined results.

An example: When a capital markets organization wanted to reinvent itself as a modern, agile business, it knew it needed to prepare its IT workforce for the big shift. It started by defining a clear vision for its future IT department and defining the operating model and skills required to support that vision. The organization assessed the IT workforce against the future skill requirements and generated 312 individual skill reports to guide training and development going forward. This allowed the organization to move forward on its transformation journey with confidence that people will have the skills to support it.

Ultimately employees will be best positioned to learn at work if they are given the opportunity to do work that is valuable to the organization, are provided high-quality information with which to learn from, and are taught and incentivized to self-evaluate and self-reflect for continually optimized performance.

Digital transformation is not about technology. It’s about a continual process of lifelong learning and growth.