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Organization-Wide Upskilling is Key to Digital Transformation Success

Organization-Wide Upskilling is Key to Digital Transformation Success

Traditionally, IT has been tasked with taking on technological changes across an organization. However, IT alone cannot tackle the growing demands and needs of customers, which, increasingly, are fueling digital transformation. To stay competitive, companies must transform how they react, operate and think about business. This type of holistic transformation needs to happen across all areas of the organization (bottom-up, top-down and laterally) and throughout all dimensions vital to becoming a digital business (e.g., data, technology, product management, talent management and innovation). Technology in all its digital variations isn’t a department or division, it’s the lifeblood of the organization.

The Transformation Dilemma

Transforming an entire organization is challenging, and there are risks to making large-scale changes. For example, the costs of overhauling infrastructure can be high, requiring many hours to create new processes and upskill employees. The return on investment (ROI) may not be seen immediately. Additionally, it can be difficult to get employees to buy in to change, especially when that change impacts their day-to-day routine. According to Gallup, only 17% of U.S. employees strongly agree that their company implements new technologies that help them to be more productive, and on average 22.5% of employees in Spain, France, Germany and the U.K. strongly agree that their company upskills them to make effective use of new digital technologies.

On the flip side, if an organization chooses not to transform, there are even higher stakes. Customers have grown accustomed to digital technologies and now crave even more digitalization: They demand modernization, seamless interactions, integration across platforms and effortless ways to interact with their favorite products and brands. If a company chooses not to embrace digital transformation, it risks failing to meet these demands, which is likely to lead to a loss of competitive advantage. The inability to react quickly and meet demands can have direct financial impacts through a downturn in sales, which snowballs into less money and revenue for the company and potentially a long-term growth stunt for the company. A lack of focus on digital transformation can also have internal risks—loss of productivity and efficiencies, higher costs to maintain outdated infrastructure and lower job satisfaction for employees. 

Common Barriers and Setbacks in Transformation

While recognizing the need to transform is an essential first step, implementation is the true test. For your implementation to be successful, your company must conduct a comprehensive examination of all business processes, infrastructure and business goals as well as your employees’ skills and knowledge gaps.

Even after a complete review, setbacks are normal. Most are caused by common barriers overlooked or unaccounted for when undergoing transformation, such as:

  • Investment in the wrong technology: new tools are unnecessary, ineffective, confusing or hard to use
  • Unclear processes: processes either aren’t updated or have been updated without guidance from the right stakeholders so they don’t connect to new ways of working
  • Lack of quality data: not having the right data causes unsubstantiated assumptions, ultimately delaying, misdirecting or impeding transformation efforts
  • No buy-in or motivation to change: the workforce doesn’t feel compelled to use new technologies or change how they work
  • Underestimation of impact on culture and people: change may go against an organization's culture, and people may not get the required support necessary to change
  • Lack of necessary skills and knowledge: the organization's workforce lacks the tools to implement change

The Multi-Faceted Plan for Organization-Wide Upskilling

You must build a comprehensive plan with education at its core to account for these barriers and meet your organization's unique cultural and business needs. Transformation requires everyone in an organization to speak the same digital language so they can work together, understand their role in transformation, and build and practice new skills before real change can happen—that’s why education is vital.

To speak the same language, you need to have the same terminology, definitions, ontologies and frameworks. A core curriculum focused on the areas vital to your digital transformation provides the foundation and gets everyone to use the same terms, which supports collaboration and the creation of a digital culture, while also enabling efficient scaling.

Beyond a core curriculum, role-based education tailors the experience for targeted audiences through relevant, practical content and activities. For instance, leaders need to understand their role in creating and evangelizing their digital mission and goals, how to support a digital workforce, and how to build a business model in this new digital environment. One activity for leaders could be to build a business model tied to their goals. As they build the model, they should work with their peers to share insights to support alignment across business units/areas and ask subject matter experts (SMEs) for feedback to ensure their approach is valid and provides alternative strategies.

Employees need to understand how they can help accomplish the company’s goals and then grow the vital skills aligned to their role. For example, some employees will need to understand how to collect, analyze, and leverage customer data to build customer-centered products. One activity could provide step-by-step support walking them through how to support product solutions and data-informed decision-making. 

To support your educational efforts, your plan should include:

  • A baseline of your current state that illuminates where you are and then serves as the foundation of your transformation roadmap. This will help leaders navigate the necessary cultural shift and get the support required for successful change.
  • An evaluation of all technologies and business processes. Only then can leaders discern the best technology investments for their organization’s needs from all angles. This approach also supports updating processes that will resonate with the organization’s culture and current ways of working.
  • Competency matrices that align skill and knowledge expectations for roles and levels. They support managers and human resources throughout the promotion and hiring process by clearly identifying the vital skills new hires need to have to meet business goals.
  • Mentorship and communities of practice, which provide support for employees as they implement their new knowledge and skills. Mentors give employees advice, feedback, guidance and social and emotional support. These relationships also drive network creation and support relationship-building across an enterprise. Communities of Practice have the same social, network-driving effect and give employees an outlet to showcase their skills, collaborate with peers and continuously learn.
  • Communication plans that include how you will evangelize goals, inspire action, account for and consider the impact of all areas of the organization, and articulate the reasons for and impacts of the change.

Digital transformation brings challenges but can be extremely rewarding for companies that manage it smartly. Embracing and leveraging digital technologies is more than just buying the next cool technology; people must work together and support each other throughout the transformation for it to be effective. The key to making this happen is through education—leveraging a core curriculum to get everyone on the same page, to support collaboration, to be able to talk digital. Investing in a multi-faceted approach to support education will set the foundation for long-term success for your business in an increasingly digital future.


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