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Steve Wainwright


Managing Director, EMEA

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Digital transformation: what does it take to become a digital leader?


Digital transformation is not just about investing in the right technology – it’s also about harnessing the right skills and encouraging employees to think in new ways.  

Digital disruption is changing the workplace as we know it but people’s skills and thinking aren’t necessarily keeping pace. It’s a big challenge for employees — who face an uncertain future unless they can improve their digital literacy and capabilities.

For employers, who need to accurately predict which innovations and capabilities will enable the enterprise to thrive and survive in an increasingly digitalised future, becoming a digital leader will be critical to future business success.

One thing is certain. Pretty soon, technologies such as robotics and AI are set to replace many routine workplace roles.

On the other hand, digital innovation will create new jobs that don’t exist today. Indeed, according to the Dell Technologies’ ‘Realising 2030 Report’, 85% of jobs in 2030 won’t have been invented yet.

Enabling the digital enterprise

Professionals in L&D need to be planning now for what will be a monumental transformation of work as we know it. Central to this is ensuring the right tools are in place to support learning.

L&D teams need to ensure every member of the workforce has access to a modern, intuitive and technologically advanced corporate learning platform.

Every employee is different and has a different learning style and will respond to different things – whether it’s via video, reading or taking quizzes. A strong digital learning platform will provide a wealth of learning modalities, so that every individual can learn in the way that suits them.

Some learning platforms are able to recommend content and courses to learners based on what other employees within their role are doing, what content they’ve viewed before, or which areas of the business they are working with on specific projects.

These capabilities will be essential, as agile learning and increased collaboration take on a more central role for employees.

The important first step

For an organisation to become a digital leader, close collaboration between IT and business leaders is vital.

This enables those responsible for product development and marketing to develop a deeper understanding of how to leverage technology and achieve ‘the art of the possible’.

Coping with digital transformation means people will constantly need to acquire new skills that enable new ways of working. 

In other words, tackling and resolving the organisation-wide challenges associated with harnessing technologies such as data science, AI, machine learning and robotics.

Looking ahead, L&D teams need to take the workforce on a transformative learning journey, helping them to acquire the critical skills needed for self-transformation.

Across all industries, these skills will fall under four key pillars.

1. IT and digital skills

It’s not just IT teams that need to be upskilled to handle upcoming technology innovations. Business leaders will also need to be better informed and able to understand the impact of potential technology choices so they can build a better technology-enabled business future for the enterprise.

Organisations need to ensure business leaders can understand how emergent technologies are set to disrupt existing business models, and work closely with IT to leverage the benefits these technologies offer to empower employees, customers and supply chain partners.

Similarly, the wider workforce needs to become more productive and adaptive.

Coping with digital transformation means people will constantly need to acquire new skills that enable new ways of working. That includes being upskilled to collaborate with confidence with intelligent systems and machines to generate enhanced process efficiencies or a differentiated customer experience.

This also means ensuring employees have access to high-quality digital skills training.

A strong digital learning platform can act as the foundation for encouraging an organisation-wide culture of continuous learning that prepares employees for the jobs of tomorrow, while driving organisational innovation today.

2. Business and soft skills training

One thing is certain - organisations will need to apply fresh thinking across their workforce for the coming changes.

Many of the new roles will require uniquely ‘human’ attributes that include soft skills, creative thinking and adaptability.

In its ‘Future of Jobs Report’, the World Economic Forum identified that complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibility and coordinating with others are just a few of the new skills that will be vital for workers in every industry.

Leaders will need to be adept at utilising digital technologies to communicate, collaborate and coordinate their activities across the business.

In an increasingly tech-driven world, it’s all too easy to overlook the importance of soft skills. Delivering innovation and performing in an increasingly collaborative work environment will mean people will be given more autonomy and decision-making power.

From managing project deadlines to juggling assignments, employees need strong organisational skills and the ability to adapt fast to changing priorities.

Similarly, as teams become more extended or global, those who are able to listen, articulate and communicate will be those best equipped to deliver value.

L&D teams need to treat soft skills with the same importance as hard skills, such as coding, project management or accounting.  

From a training perspective, soft skills development needs to be delivered in the same way, providing the same tailored learning paths and curated content to support each individual’s skills development.  

3. Leadership

In a workplace that’s increasingly digital, great leaders understand that human connection matters.

Alongside acquiring the ability to seize on and apply the opportunities that new technologies create for the enterprise, leaders will need to be adept at utilising digital technologies to communicate, collaborate and coordinate their activities across the business.

What’s more, as the structure of organisations evolve in response to the influx of automation and AI technologies, more employees are set to become ‘self-starters’ who assume leadership responsibilities without a formal leader designation.

This means organisations will need to expand their leadership development to cover a broader and deeper talent pool.

Indeed, a recent study by McKinsey found that organisations which implement a broad leadership development strategy are six to seven times more likely to derive success from their leadership development programmes than those who do not.

4. Compliance

Finally, managing change and risk in the age of digital transformation is no easy task. The digital enterprise will need to develop risk frameworks capable of adapting fast to an evolving compliance agenda.

As digital transformation drives new business models that impact supply chains and customer interactions, organisations will need to be prepared to cope with new digital risks while managing compliance in an increasingly regulated world.

Organisations will need to invest in ensuring that the workforce is appropriately skilled to operate in an increasingly challenging regulatory environment, and prepare it to manage risk and enforce compliance with all manner of requirements — GDPR, anti-slavery, harassment, industry regulations, health and safety, and more.

It’s time to prioritise skills development

The digital enterprise faces a number of emerging challenges that demand a co-ordinated and compromised response.

Preparing employees to succeed in the new, digitally transformed workplace should be a top priority for every organisation.

Digital learning tools will be vital, and it is down to L&D leaders to help drive their organisation towards these as part of a wider transformation towards a more digital approach.  

Simply racing to keep pace will not secure the enterprise’s future in rapidly evolving markets. Digital skills and mindsets will be critical at all levels of the business, ensuring people can think, collaborate and work in new and creative ways.

Interested in this topic? Read What’s the reality of digital learning transformation today?

Author Profile Picture
Steve Wainwright

Managing Director, EMEA

Read more from Steve Wainwright

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