Apr 28, 2017

How to Build an Agile Workforce in a Digital World

by Digital Marketing Institute

Increasingly, businesses are finding it harder to attract, hire, develop and retain the ‘right’ talent, particularly in in-demand roles such as those related to digital. The readiness of talent is vital for digital transformation and having employees with relevant skills is crucial for any organization wanting to maintain competitive advantage and market share.

Across industries and continents, human capital, workforce planning, and development have become an issue of significant global concern. What makes an organization stand out from others is its ability to adapt to change quickly and seamlessly, particularly in today’s fast-moving digital landscape - and that requires agile talent.

In this blog, we explore 7 ways organizations can build and nurture an agile workforce with relevant and up-to-date digital skills that can drive business success.

1) Embed a digital culture

80% of digitally maturing companies say their companies are active and engaged in initiatives to boost risk-taking, agility, and collaboration. This compares to 23% of companies at the early stages of digital maturity.

The difference with companies that have embraced digital transformation is the investment in a digital culture comes from the top down. Armed with the resources and opportunities to develop themselves in a digital environment makes those in senior positions more likely to understand the external and internal factors that drive maturity and in turn retain talent.

In mature organizations, this digital culture feeds down to a workforce as employees can avail of initiatives that help them develop and hone digital skills and know-how. In fact, a recent MIT Sloan study found that nearly three-quarters of digitally maturing companies were able to attract new talent based on their use of digital, while only 10% of their early-stage peers can do the same.

2) Embrace change

“The ability to anticipate, manage and capitalize on pervasive change is often the difference between market leadership and extinction” – IBM

According to a recent report, only 40% of executives believe they have the right skills in place to manage change projects in the future. This means that 60% of professionals do not feel prepared for or equipped to deal with change.

As digital continues to have a huge impact on the way businesses operate and communicate with customers, specialist skills are coming to the fore as key for an organization’s talent arsenal.

For example, advanced analytics, cloud and cognitive computing are becoming more important across industries driving the need for an alignment between customer facing and internal functions to integrate technologies and processes.

3) Understand your human capital

It is essential that an organization knows the capabilities of its employees across the organization. By understanding the expertise already in-house, executives can pull together teams from different parts in the organization that has the necessary talent to drive projects.

In addition, knowing the skills that exist can also help to highlight the skills your business is lacking - particularly niche roles that know how to harness the power of digital technologies.

Understand your human capital

Chief Analytics Officer at Burning Glass Technologies, Dan Restuccia believes that organizations need to build talent supply chains in the same way they manage those of goods and materials. Taking this approach, he thinks, will enable companies to identify talent needs in advance and address any potential disruptions to or inefficiencies in the flow of talent.

By mapping out the digital expertise of a workforce, businesses can prioritize the skills they require and future-proof the organization by identifying roles that may come down the line and prove important as things change.

4) Invest in learning and development

No matter which approach an organization takes to talent agility, there needs to be some investment in upskilling in order to keep skills up-to-date and relevant.

According to Deloitte, 70% of learning should come from practical training and exposure, 20% should come from facilitated training, and 10% should come from self-directed learning and reading.

Salesforce logo

Take Salesforce as an example. Keen to adopt and nurture a culture that breeds digital talent, the cloud computing organization provides continuous learning and skill development through an online platform that offers courses on specific jobs and roles. On completion of a course, employees receive a badge that features on their profile on the company’s social collaboration site. This helps identify people with specific expertise and can also play role in performance evaluation.

A well-structured and industry aligned learning and development program not only serves the needs of a workforce in-house and keeps skills topped up as and when required, it also boosts the attractiveness of a company to future talent and aids in retention.

5) Build a diverse workforce

A key driver of innovation, diversity is critical to becoming an agile workforce. Senior executives now recognize that a diverse set of experiences, perspectives and backgrounds help to foster innovation, develop new ideas and guide business strategies to help progress digital maturity.

“Diversity fosters creativity. We need to generate the best ideas from our people in all levels of the company and incorporate them into our business practices.” - Frédéric Rozé, CEO, L’Oréal USA

When it comes to skills, a diverse set of knowledge and expertise is crucial for an agile and digital savvy workforce. While specialists are now becoming more and more important to a business as the needs of customers continue to change, staff with generalist skills such as traditional marketing are just as important to driving business success.

6) Drive Collaboration

Team collaboration in action using post its on a transparent wall

Collaboration across an organization can create a culture of sharing and an environment ripe for innovation.

As workforces become more diverse with digital natives such as millennials to make up a considerable part of the workforce, it’s important to have a collaborative mindset that takes account of different ages, cultures, and abilities. This collaboration will also feed into a customer base that is diverse and will help drive engagement to a range of prospects using a diverse set of knowledge.

In today’s digital age, collaboration is key as it is no longer contained to one department but permeates across the business from marketing to sales to IT. For sales, it’s about working with marketing to be armed with the right content to target customers off and online, while IT and marketing need to work together to get more from a company’s data to target customers more effectively.

For software supplier Vidyard, fostering collaboration between sales and marketing using digital tools grew their business by more than 1,000% over a two-year period. In a process coined as ‘smarketing’, this alignment aligned their sales and marketing team’s objectives to drive qualified opportunities, pipeline and revenue.

7) Factor in reflection time

Long-term sustainability is key for the success of an organization and as such businesses need to think about future-proofing their talent. To achieve this it is essential to take stock of what has and has not worked in hiring, development or retention.

For example, what was the uptake of recent learning and development initiatives? What proved most successful in finding talent? An internal confidential survey can help provide insights that a company may not be aware of provides an opportunity to go some way to changing the culture of a business and the working environment for the better.

Building in reflection time enables an organization to capitalize on their successes and learn from failures allowing them to take stock of where they are in regards to digital transformation and work out how to move forward.

An agile culture that embeds digital in its DNA while investing in the skills of its employees will see an increase in productivity, employee engagement, the value of their employer brand along with making the most of an environment in constant flux.

Agility will not happen on its own, it requires an organization to take control and nurture its talent while keeping a keen eye on the digital landscape to understand what expertise it needs in the future.

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