When speaking with HR leaders across a multitude of sectors, defining and building ‘digital’ capability is a ubiquitous strategic priority. But what does this actually mean and what are some of the practical building blocks that can be put in place to help organisations prepare for the future in the context of digital capability building? ChapmanCG co-hosted two sessions across the summer with Novo Nordisk in Copenhagen and Vodafone in London to explore this in more depth and gain different perspectives with a cross-section of our HR leader community.
Defining what ‘digital’ means to a specific organisation is critical. What is the organisation trying to achieve? In simplistic tactical terms, is it simply about hiring increased numbers of technologists, data scientists and software developers in the literal sense – to build a better e-commerce platform for example? Is it about culture, trying to foster a more agile culture and mindset? Or, is it more around trying to create the right ecosystem for increased innovation through better technology, systems and analytics? ‘Building digital capability’ is arguably a combination of all three (in some guise) as the majority of companies start to orientate more towards technology in some way shape or form. From an HR perspective, when we talk about making HR more digital, this generally refers to improved HRIS, adopting predictive analytics, automation and robotics, and more innovation through the use of mobile-based HR software platforms. But it’s also about developing HR leaders to think as technologists, becoming more analytical and data-savvy, more innovative, and faster in collaboration and decision making. In terms of measuring ‘digital’ capability in HR, it tends to be more productive to assess HR talent on learning velocity, agility and the ability to collaborate in virtual teams rather than simply noting if someone has worked in a technology company or supported an IT function.
The Vodafone team talked about their technology DNA and having ‘digital inclusion’ at the core of their very purpose. They link this to CSR initiatives such as ‘schools in a box’, which is essentially the provision of ‘instant classrooms’ that can be set up in 20 minutes and can be used in classrooms where there is no electricity to give children a tablet-based education. At a grassroots level, Vodafone is also actively trying to help bridge the gap between unemployment levels and an ongoing demand for digital skills with their future jobs finder programme. They joined forces with Sony Pictures with the aim to help youngsters find jobs that match their skills. The partnership leveraged the ‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ film to encourage people to explore Vodafone’s gamified digital platform, Future Jobs Finder, and identify their skills, matching them with the jobs best suited for them. Users needed to take a series of short tests to identify their skills and interests – they can then find live local job opportunities in multiple digital industries which are matched to their skills and access free digital skills training. They are not only helping younger generations through these upskilling programmes but also employees and older generations. So, this is not a one-off ‘capability build’ or ‘culture change programme’, this is fundamental to their purpose and the desired knock-on effect will be an increased digital capability within Vodafone but also in society in general.
‘Buying’ Talent not the Default
It’s important to focus on transferable skills within this ‘capability building’ tapestry, rather than just buying in ‘digital’ from the external market, partly because it’s so competitive and expensive. Reskilling and upskilling are around six times cheaper than bringing in new external hires. Vodafone, like many other companies, is trying to identify where the gaps will be in five years and placing big bets on this. These include areas such as data science and models, deep neural networks, cognitive Edge computing and bot optimisation. On this journey, it’s equally critical not to limit the majority of your ‘experts’ to the leadership path. The best leaders are more often than not generalists with a limited understanding of the specifics of future skills. They don’t always role model this digital dexterity. Deep experts tend to be the ‘unsung heroes’ and organisations that get this right for the future will be the ones that best reward and recognise the uptake and improvement of skills, anchoring them to development and future careers.
Some big reskilling examples recently include AT&T’s investment of 1bn USD into working with online learning facilities, Cousera and Udacity, with a career hub for employees to identify and train for future jobs. McDonald’s has their ‘woman in tech’ initiative through the education and tuition assistance programme ‘Archways to Opportunity.’ Women in the restaurants will learn skills in data science, cybersecurity and AI. McDonald’s has also partnered with Microsoft and Colorado Technical University to provide their technical skills curriculum.
Vodafone has had success in sending their CTOs out to see what others are doing so they can better identify their own skills gaps. They’ve then allowed these leaders room to take ownership of their own bespoke reskilling programmes. Once you have identified the key business skills and know what good looks like, the leader can effectively drive the re-skilling. Vodafone had success with this in their big data team.
L’Oreal had some success in their digital upskilling strategy by undertaking targeted ‘learning expeditions’ actively spending time with other companies to understand the mindset of digital players and get insights on inspirational and agile ways of working. They also created a ‘digital expert’ talent pool by providing a strong induction around ‘digital discovery’ entitled FIT and sending their employees to events and conferences. They also created a marketing certificate called ‘digital agility at high speed’ that was awarded once completed. This gave them reverse mentoring exposure and one on one time with digital natives was also a powerful way to upskill.
Reward the Skills
Badges can be a good way to drive recognition for effective digital mentorship, as well as putting more of a focus on short-term experiences and assignments, giving project experience. In the future, this may even morph into short term assignments with other companies, taking the ‘borrow’ piece to the next level toward the ‘rent’ concept. HR can be at the forefront, orchestrating the movement of talent and borrowing human assets, developing the Employee Value Proposition (EVP) notion of the employee journey with less focus on ownership. This is increasing with the GIG economy with more flexible, pliable contracts.
In this current ‘digital’ climate, every company is moving towards being a technology company of some kind. But the tech companies are standing out by building strong foundations in agile culture, attracting and retaining experts, automating, supporting multiple operating models, making long-term bets, and investing in the skills of the future.
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