woman leaning against a wall
PHOTO: BBH Singapore

Let’s just get the list out of the way right off the bat: change management, communication and digital proficiency are, to me, three of the most important skills needed in a digital workplace practitioner. I’ll throw in a fourth as a bonus, but you’ll have to read on or scroll to the bottom of the article for that one. 

One of the gaps I’ve seen in organizations that are lagging in digital workplace journeys is the lack of a strong internal force that is pointing the path forward and leading the charge. The digital workplace happens whether you do anything or not, but the hodgepodge of disconnected and user-unfriendly services that result if you do nothing is unlikely to be seen as inspiring, engaging or productive. To establish a cohesive and thriving digital workplace, someone needs to be the champion, someone needs to cast a vision, and that someone needs to do a whole lot of advocating and guiding along the way. 

There are, of course, more than three (or even four) skills that are important for this role, but the three I’ll discuss in this post I think will derive significant returns for the program as a whole. 

Change Management

Change management is a discipline that lays out approaches and methods to help individuals and organizations go from point A to point B. While adoption is often the goal many seek, change management is the method to reach it. Popular methodologies for change management include Lewin’s model, the McKinsey 7-S model, Kotter’s theory, Nudge theory and the ADKAR model. I’m most familiar with, and certified in, Prosci’s ADKAR model so I’ll expand a bit on how that one works. 

ADKAR stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement. The goal is to apply a structured process and tools to lead the people aspects of change to desired outcomes. 

In other words, this is about changing behaviors. That’s why I list this skill as the first skill required for the digital workplace practitioner — changing behaviors is what the job is all about. 

The very high-level overview of the ADKAR change management model is as follows. 

  • Awareness: People need to know about the change, and more importantly than just knowing about it, they need to know why it is relevant and needed. This message is best when it comes from someone of authority and significance. 
  • Desire: People need to want to change whatever it is you want them to change and that typically means you need to answer the fundamental question: What’s in it for me? #WIIFM.
  • Knowledge: People need help learning how to change. This is where training comes in. My boss likes to say this is the step everyone wants to skip to and he isn’t wrong. 
  • Ability: This is where the change is realized and typically where benefits start being realized. Ability means your audience knows how to execute on the change before them.
  • Reinforcement: People need to be reminded of why they changed and why the change was needed. They also need to be recognized for achieving the goals of the change. 

There is way more to it than that; however, this very high-level overview gives context to why this skill is critical for a digital workplace practitioner. Getting workers to adopt new ways of working is primarily a change effort, and value will not be realized if workers don’t change their behaviors. To summarize (and repeat a phrase I’ve used befoe): adoption is the goal; change management is the method. 

Related Article: How to Adapt Traditional Change Management for Digital Transformation Initiatives

Communication

Interestingly enough, I don’t have as much to say about communication. This one seems pretty straightforward. A digital workplace practitioner needs to be able to communicate and to communicate well. 

Not only is the communication plan a key component of change management approaches such as the ADKAR model summarized above, it is simply one of the most important skills required of the modern worker, especially so for someone advocating for the digital workplace and modern work practices. 

The leader and team members of digital workplace efforts within an organization are going to need to talk to a lot of people, a lot of times (yes, they’ll need to talk to the same people multiple times). It isn’t just the end results though — presentations, talks, blogs — that require a high degree of communication skill. The planning and strategizing required are even more important. 

Many of our modern tools are founded on enabling communication. In fact, collaboration is fundamentally a communication activity with the additional features of “working together toward a common objective” mixed in. Communication, then, is central to digital proficiency, which is the next critical skill on my list. 

Related Article: Is Intranet and Digital Workplace a Profession?

Digital Proficiency

It is hard to fathom how a digital workplace practitioner can be effective without being highly capable at using the digital technologies they are advocating for. Demonstrating how they use digital workplace tools in their work is key to establishing credibility and authenticity as well as being a model for the change in working styles that modern workplace tools make possible. 

Secondly, and more importantly, having a high proficiency and understanding of the digital toolkit enables the practitioner to advise and guide their customers on how to best leverage the capabilities of new tools to optimize their current processes. As one of the most critical aspects of the job, this consulting can’t be done if the one providing the guidance isn’t able to clearly articulate the value of change as applied to specific use cases and scenarios. The more knowledgeable the practitioner has regarding the ins and outs of the products, the better they will be positioned to do so. 

Product knowledge goes beyond knowing what the product can and can’t do to also include knowing what it will do. Staying abreast of upcoming enhancements and new features is a key component in maintaining digital proficiency. 

Related Article: Digital Proficiency: Literacy, Fluency and Mastery

Bonus: Passion

My bonus “skill” isn’t really a skill at all. However, the most effective digital workplace practitioner is going to have a real and visible passion for what they do. Whether that passion is rooted in a love for technology, enabling productivity, or improving the employee experience, a healthy dose of passion will help fuel the practitioner through the rough patches of leading change as well as help them shine when they are bragging about the new technologies and ways of working that the digital workplace creates. An authentic passion for the digital workplace will help build the groundswell of support and excitement needed to shift company culture toward the future of work.

Change management, communication and digital proficiency, coupled with passion for the work, aren’t the only skills needed, but they aren’t a bad place to start.