We live in a generation of ‘digital natives’ and are continually exposed to technology in our daily lives. Since introduction, the word ‘digital’ has synonymously used with SMAC (Social, Mobile, Analytics, and Cloud), even though implications of these coming together weren’t well understood. Today, we can clearly see digital is disrupting business models and changing relationships between customers, suppliers, partners, and employees. “By bringing together technical expertise with business knowledge, digital has raised the expectations of a Marketing professional to know, adopt and adapt to the new technology platforms. Similarly, a geek needs to deeply understand and appreciate revenue and cost models that make platforms like Big Basket, Uber and PayTM a success” said Tarandeep Singh, Partner, Talent & Performance Consulting, Aon Hewitt.
What does a digital workforce really mean?
As Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. This is true for digitalization of the workforce. A digital workforce is not just the coming together of business and technology. It is about going beyond digital mindsets and workforce, to be able to explore, connect, socialize, and achieve. A digital workforce is essential to improve the customer experience because going digital enables rapid and agile response management to meet the changing customer demands. It enables employees to cope with the rapid pace of change. People are the core differentiator today, and to enable people, organizations must empower them digitally with the necessary resources and support a mindset shift. As Neeru Mehta, VP - People Development & HR, GlobalLogic puts it, “There has been a big shift in the last two years, wherein our business has moved from a 50% digital focus to an 80% digital enablement for clients. That’s the kind of mix we need to have in the workforce as well”, she says. Another perspective is related to changing perceptions depending on the sector. Maybe there exists a digital divide when it comes to blue-collar workers? Nothing can be further from this truth, as Rajesh Lele, Head - e-HR Projects, Tata Motors states, “Tech is all-pervasive. Even for blue-collared workers, a lot of benefits are being driven digitally, not just within the enterprise, but at a government-level (PF, statutory benefits etc.). We just need to think of ways to get them digital-savvy on the professional-front”.
Breaking boundaries and enabling this all-encompassing mindset shift is a huge transformation in itself. For people to migrate into the digital space sustainably, a favorable ecosystem is a must.
The Key Digital Workforce Competencies
Creating a digital workforce demands new competencies altogether. In the past, organizations would trust to hire resources with a high cognitive ability and expect them to learn on the job. Today, they are looking at newer skills such as learnability i.e. people who have both inductive and deductive thinking, people who are willing to unlearn and relearn. Having an inherent curiosity and social liasioning capabilities are new-age skills for success, and organizations are learning to assess for them. Anil Joseph, VP & Head HR India, Sutherland Global Services explains, “We have done massive hackathons to fuel and find out curiosity. With more than 5000 employees coming forward to propose 131 unique ideas, we realized that curiosity lies with everybody. HR just needs to find that fire of an intuitive, agile and a learning-hungry mindset”.
HR leaders will need to look at new ways to identify/build these competencies- through means like a D&I focus, bravely piloting new learning models and instating new hiring models.
The Right Approach to Build a Digital Workforce: Build or Buy?
Transforming into a digital workforce is no longer an option, it's more about what processes organizations follow to enable change. As businesses move faster and more and more clients expect to be served immediately and adequately, organizations will continue to opt between the build-or-buy approach for developing the right digital competencies and mindset.
- Build: To build the desired skills internally, L&D must devise ways to cultivate domain, technology, and digital soft skills, rather than focus only on the basic functional skills. Also, the above-mentioned competencies need to be developed not only at the entry level but for leadership positions too. For this, HR must develop the right processes like reverse mentoring, mobile learning etc. Learning from the next generation is something that Subex does well. “We have hired an executive coach from the Gen Y generation to coach our VPs. Almost 75% of today’s workforce i.e. millennials have a digital advantage- they naturally are digital because while we played with gilli-dandas, they played with iPads” says Mohan Sitharam, Chief People Officer, Subex Ltd. Leveraging the digital-natives to move into a future-ready talent landscape is a natural migration.
- Buy: Talent Acquisition processes need to be revamped to attract the right digital talent- people who are keen to work at places where they are a part of the digital roadmap and agents of the transformation process. Organizations can turn to anchored hiring, sharing of thought leadership, and social recruiting to attract this talent. Organizations who wish to tap into the digital workforce have to adopt a two-pronged methodology-
- Build the ability to attract: TA has to ensure that the hiring processes reflect the digital mindset of the organization. A good place to start is to offer realistic job previews to help prospective employees understand what the job actually entails. It not only brings the culture out in the open, but applicants can set the right expectations, creating a powerful candidate-employer connect.
- Engage with the candidate through the hiring process: Continuous engagement with the candidate using multiple technologies and tools (especially mobile) is a must to create a great digital candidate experience. Tarandeep Singh, Partner, Talent & Performance Consulting, Aon Hewitt talks about using a WhatsApp-like tool called ‘Chat-Assess’ and gamification platforms to understand candidates’ personalities and also to engage with the digital-savvy generation. The digital workforce comes with a question, “What can you tell me about me as I go through this whole journey?”. And organizations need to cater to their changing expectations. In short, employers must give candidates an experience through the use of technology that aligns with the promise of being a digital employer.
Whether build or buy, organizations must redefine the entire employee value proposition and integrate all HR processes to align with the digital construct.
How to accelerate the digital workforce transformation?
The transition is not easy and has to be an integrated, comprehensive process. Learning and Development, performance management, career pathing and succession planning, hiring and selection- all these processes need to talk the digital language. It is especially important to measure progress and reward progressive learners. Along with these cultural changes, organizations must provide employees the right infrastructure, processes, and tools to go digital. HR can start by challenging the org-structures and allowing a flexible and seamless flow of information. Subject matter experts from the business have to work on developing new learning methodologies that help employees develop future skills such as leading teams, collaborating, communicating effectively etc. Learning needs to be led by employees and directed by changing business context. MOOCs, micro-learning, online and mobile learning, micro-learning, learning academies- these are some of the tools available for organizations to look at while they enable employees to embrace the digital transformation process.
Unless HR leaders take it upon themselves to “shake up” the current status-quo, building future-ready digital workforces will remain unfeasible. They must give up the notion that tenured or blue-collar employees cannot be part of the change and realize the quantum of what they are already achieving using digital technology in their personal lives. The challenge is to enable and empower them to bring the same thinking to the workplace. HR can spearhead this strategic shift, creating a common purpose and the right digital ecosystem to make people come together and be part of the digital transformation journey giving rise to the new set of next-generation organizations.