Leadership, talent and the digital future

Leadership, talent and the digital future

How can leaders approach future-proofing their workforce?

I am frequently amazed at how much digital technology has transformed my work and the work of my people. For me as a senior leader, some aspects are great. It is much easier to communicate with more people inside and outside the organisation. Receiving updates is easier. I can also contribute to things like recruitment more effectively. At the same time, many of the skills I need have been transformed, and some are obsolete.

I am very conscious that the effect of digitisation is much bigger for many of my people. They may be more digitally native, but they do not have the experience of other staff in a rapidly changing workplace.

However, these people, many of whom we can consider the future of our organisations, cannot just be replaced. There simply is no alternative talent available to replace them. Demand far outstrips supply. We face a highly complex situation full of challenges and opportunities. The answer, I believe, is to develop these people as digital talent, with the right blend of capabilities.

The challenge is that technology and possibilities are outpacing the traditional education approaches many companies cling to, even if most development now takes place online. If leaders do not commit to developing digital talent at scale, they will run their businesses into economic choke points.

Additionally, the young people coming into the workforce today do not have the digital skills their industry requires. The available digital talent will be more expensive, and companies will not have a big enough pool of skilled workers in data science and AI.

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to these challenges.

My organisation has gone increasingly digital in the last year or so. We have added entire new departments and completely new types of talent. We are a relatively small and specialised organisation. We do not have the advantages of many big organisations, but we also do not face all the challenges of smaller businesses. We have made many mistakes, and we are still learning, but I would like to share a few of my observations in the hope they may help leaders like myself.

First, leaders need to take some time to understand the digital skills their future business needs. Do not jump at whatever is trendy. For us, data was a capability we needed to build. We also had to learn more about virtual delivery very quickly. Understanding helped us plan for development at scale and effectiveness in the areas critical for our business. I also had to consider our culture to identify potential barriers and actively lead my people in the required direction.

Second, I had to become — along with the rest of the leadership team — somewhat of a digital champion. I had to talk about digital. I had to be seen to become more digitally savvy, which was an enjoyable challenge. I had to highlight potential opportunities to use technology to do things better. Leaders doing this is essential. Leaders who don’t become more digitally inclined can become massive barriers to successful wider adoption.

Third, I had to rethink how I could digitally educate my people at scale. I was lucky that I had some people already engaged in their own digital upskilling. Additionally, being in the education business provided some insights and resources. But fundamentally, how we did things transformed.

There were much fewer classes and courses. Instead, there were learning journeys and applications for our organisation’s key jobs to be done, and there were challenges. Since many of us were relatively new to this, there was a lot more discussion, teaching each other, and sharing of tips and insights.

It worked, and although we have a long way to go on what is probably a never-ending journey, some of my most senior leaders and people are remarkably digitally more advanced than I would have thought possible.

Finally, I learned that developing hard digital skills by themselves was not sufficient. The data team I mentioned needed to develop the softer and thinking capabilities to not just make sense but to engage everyone else with the data.

In this time of a critical digital skills shortage, I do not believe there are any shortcuts. Leaders need to commit to a holistic approach to future-proofing their workforce. They have to commit to the long term and invest in their people.

They also need to teach their people that it is not just about building digital skills, it is about building the business. Whether you like it or not, for most companies, digital is now the business. Your customers are already more digital, and if your people do not have the digital skills to give them what they want, someone else will.

Even your dinosaurs can be brought along if you make developing their capabilities easy and user-friendly.

Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC — Southeast Asia’s Lifelong Learning Center. She can be reached by email at arinya_t@seasiacenter.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/arinya-talerngsri-53b81aa. Talk to us about how SEAC can help your business during times of uncertainty at https://forms.gle/wf8upGdmwprxC6Ey9

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