Commentary: How to Gain and Develop Digital Talent and Skills

One factor more than any other will determine which companies turn digital to their advantage: people. (JG Photo/Yudha Baskoro)

By : Eddy Tamboto | on 3:34 PM August 22, 2017
Category : Opinion, Commentary

As digital transformation disrupts the workplace, one factor more than any other will determine which companies turn digital to their advantage. That critical element is people. The catalysts of digital transformation are by all means people with the right skill sets, talent and most importantly, a vision.

While, new-age technologies and business models can be replicated by all industry players, what differentiates winners from losers is their ability to identify, recruit, and retain the digital talent that makes the technology work. But, digitally talented people are already
 so highly in demand that many large, traditional companies must reinvent themselves to attract them. In other words, to build the people side of digital, companies need to answer four questions:

Who are the new digital employees that the organization needs?

For any digital people strategy, the first step is defining what "digital talent" means. Until the company fully understands the digital profiles, or job functions, available in the market and within the company, there can be no clear way to determine how many digital employees — and in what profiles — it must recruit, develop, and retain.

To facilitate such understanding, we have identified — through analysis of nearly a million recruitment profiles and from dozens of interviews with practitioners — six areas where digital talent can have the most impact. These areas are digital business, digital marketing, digital development, advanced analytics, Industry 4.0, and new ways of working.

Where can the talent be found for these job profiles?

As companies begin their recruiting efforts, they need to identify cities that have a good supply of digital talent — cities where the company will seem attractive to native residents and where the company will be able to build up its digital resources over the medium to long-term.

How can the digital talent be engaged, recruited and retained?

It may be a challenge to recruit and select the right digital talent in an era when high demand for such talent and low-cost access to information put the power in the hands of the job candidates. We recommend easy ways to manage this:

Step into their shoes. The most important of the many best practices, we believe, is understanding how digital employees think. Although the 20 digital profiles we found in our research represent very different backgrounds and skill sets — from experienced coders with a classic IT background to Generation Y and Z self-taught entrepreneurs, freelancers and conventional top-university neophytes — they seem to share a digital mindset.

Install tech-savvy recruiters. More than 90 percent of digital employees today use online tools and communities in their job search. And they find new jobs in an average of less than two weeks. To compete for these individuals, traditional recruiting practices are not enough.  Companies today need recruiting staff with social media and online networking skills, HR software capabilities, and digital knowledge.

Look to new talent channels. The digital talent companies seek might be using only group-specific recruiting platforms. To reach these people, companies need to use the appropriate platforms.

Target their interests. Recruiters can also reach a broader pool of digital employees by addressing their interests directly. They can connect with digital talent in person, for example, by participating in targeted informal events that allow creative people of all types to mingle, network, and share insights before the workday begins.

Buy and build. A more costly approach to recruitment is "acquihiring" — buying a company not for its business or product line but for its talent. Alternatively, companies can create digital hubs or subsidiaries that have a startup-like environment and are therefore more attractive to young digital talent.

Digitalize and personalize. Once the right target groups have been reached, it’s the selection and recruiting process that will distinguish the successful company from its competitors. Throughout the recruiting process, companies should try to maintain a personal touch, finding a way to balance digital methods and personal appreciation

Retain the new talent. With so many new digital employees in their ranks, companies need to create an environment in which these individuals will want to stay for the long term. Companies can keep talented employees in the fold with programs and policies that show personal appreciation, create a positive work-life balance, and cultivate a collaborative, flexible workplace.

What are the skills that the current workforce needs to keep pace with the digital transformation?

Once companies determine what digital skills are needed, they also need to know that not all skills must be mastered to the same level in every role. For each of the skills related to a given role, the company should identify which of the three proficiency levels is required: basic awareness of the skill's value and purpose; intermediate possession of the skill, or advanced mastery of the skill.

Of the three skill levels, basic awareness is the easiest to build and the most  relevant to large groups of employees. Organizations can also develop a comprehensive digital-skill matrix by looking at its corporate functions and align them along the list of digital skills. Then, using a tailored agile "sprint," or iterative, approach, HR and the relevant function can work together to create a detailed, company-specific version.

With the digital-skill matrix in hand, HR can then begin to develop the company's overall digital enablement journey. It will want to move quickly, as the digital products, channels, business models, analytics, and working methods are already in place or are just around the corner. The digital enablement is a long journey, it can typically take years, depending on the starting point, the size of the business and the resources applied. Yet the effort pays off from the very beginning, as employees across functions can use their new skills, even on the initial levels, immediately.

Toward a New Culture

To create a truly digital culture, the organization needs to introduce and adapt to new forms of cooperation, implementing more project-based work and running these projects in a more flexible way. Introduce new working methods such as agile and user-centric product design, along with more experimentation and creativity, fewer fixed rules, and more tolerance for risk taking.

Digitally savvy employees tend to be fast learners who crave responsibility and impact, but they will make mistakes; a culture that accepts failure is essential. The new culture should also extend to the workspace, utilizing progressive office design to attract talent and foster innovation.

Eddy Tamboto is a senior partner and managing director for BCG Jakarta. 

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