by Shayne Thomas
03 Mar 2020
The Key to Preparing for Digital Transformation is Learning and Development
Here are the four soft skills that all employees should master now
By now, you’ve probably heard the term “digital transformation” thrown around many times before. It’s really become part and parcel of this increasingly digital-first world we live in. And while it’s primarily a business concept, you could also say that it applies to our personal lives as well, especially seeing how much time we spend in front of digital devices today.
Now, to make sure we’re all on the same page, here’s a great definition for us to work with:
Digital transformation is the integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, fundamentally changing how you operate and deliver value to customers. It's also a cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment, and get comfortable with failure.
It sounds both exciting and terrifying at the same time, right? On the one hand, you’ve got the promise of technology to improve and streamline business operations in a big way. On the other hand, there’s this looming specter of change that, for some, can feel really uncomfortable.
While some people may say that “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks,” the entire point of digital transformation is just that: to force businesses and their employees out of their tried-and true comfort zones, paving a way for a better, more productive and successful future.
The purpose of this article isn’t to talk about the ins and outs of digital transformation, per se. While we, at Cornerstone, unquestionably provide a wealth of digital solutions that can take your recruiting, performance management, learning and development, and employee engagement programs to an entirely new level, the goal here is to look more closely at how you and your employee can prepare for the “cultural” side of digital transformation.
Equipping employees with the skills to embrace digital transformation
It should come as no surprise that we are big proponents of learning and development. We believe—and know—that employees don’t just go to their jobs today to do work. They go to work to develop new skills, excel in their careers, and achieve new personal and professional goals. The workplace has, for all intents and purposes, become a training ground of sorts.
And employees want and expect this: a whopping 94% have said that they would stay at a company longer if the company invested in helping them learn. That’s a big deal!
This also comes at a time when technology is changing workplace dynamics in a big way—ushering in new jobs (that don’t even yet exist) while also making certain roles and responsibilities somewhat obsolete. With so much change happening so quickly, it’s really hard to keep up the constant flux of the digital learning curve. Sure, keeping up-to-date on technical skills helps, to a certain extent, but even those, too, become quickly obsolete these days.
So, how can today’s workforce prepare for digital transformation? Easy. They need to level up on their soft skills: the kind of evergreen knowledge that will transcend any technological innovation we face in the next year, two years, five years, and beyond. These are the skills that are truly invaluable to anyone and everyone. But they require practice just like anything else.
Although there are a number of soft skills that employees today can and should master, here are the four that will prepare them best for the challenge of digital transformation ahead:
- Adaptability: There’s a good chance you haven’t considered this a soft skill before, because being adaptable is pretty much assumed to be a given in today’s society. But as mentioned above, change can be really hard for some people. People love their routines. They love the comfort in knowing that, when they go to work, they have a clear idea about what their day will look like.
In the face of more and more companies embracing digital transformation, a lot of that goes out the window—and as that happens, we start to see just how inflexible we, as humans, can naturally be in the face of massive change. It’s ok, we’re all only human—and it’s very easy to get set in our ways.
That’s why adaptability, especially the art of being adaptable in virtually any situation, is truly a skill that needs to be learned and refined over time. It won’t happen overnight, nor is it something that you learn once and then forget about down the road. Adaptability is a life-long skill that must be nurtured. And unfortunately, for those who resist change at all costs, it will be incredibly hard to deal with the challenges and pressures brought on by digital transformation without budging a little.
- Collaboration: This one’s a double-edged sword. Here’s why. A lot of new technologies have emerged today that make it easier than ever for people and teams to collaborate seamlessly without having to be face-to-face. This has been a boon for businesses, especially those with distributed teams that don’t necessarily work out of central office. However, these technologies also have a downside: they have made it easy for people to work independently and remotely, sometimes without human interaction whatsoever. While this obviously has its perks for productivity—because being able to do work anywhere is certainly a massive benefit to any business—it has, in many ways, started to make people less collaborative (that is, in the human sense of the word).
That’s why it’s become increasingly important for people to start honing in on their collaboration skills once again. This doesn’t mean learning the newest and latest collaborative technologies. This means improving interpersonal communication and fostering productive group dynamics. At a time when so much work can be done independently—and effectively, at that—we can’t forget that, in any business, almost no employee is an island. We have to work well with each other and be unafraid to come out from hiding behind our emails and other tech platforms from time to time.
- Communication: This goes hand-in-hand with collaboration. Because so much communication happens today via digital means, it has become all too common to forget that, regardless of how we’re communicating or with what channel we’re using to communicate, we are still communicating human-to-human.
True, today’s technologies have sped up and streamlined communication in ways that many people would have never thought possible 10 to 20 years ago. Unfortunately, these technologies have also made communication incredibly impersonal—so much that what someone may say when protected behind the “wall” of email or chat pushes the limits far more than what they’d say in a face-to-face conversation. This has become, in essence, the root of many communication breakdowns and interpersonal conflicts.
But it can be easily fixed with a little focus, effort, and the occasional friendly reminder that, at the end of the day, we are communicating with other people and, as such, we must give them the same respect that we would expect for ourselves. This is why perfecting communication skills is so important today, especially seeing that more and more of our communications are being digitized and (inadvertently) de-personified through modern technologies.
- Leadership: Not everyone is born a “natural” leader. Even people in power don’t always have an arsenal of leadership skills to tap into right from the get go. Like everything else on this list, leadership is an acquired skill that takes a lot of time, energy, and practice to master. You could even say that leadership is a cumulative skill: it’s a mix of our experiences, challenges, successes, and failures all wrapped into one.
And although not everyone wants to be a leader—or will even rise to leadership ranks over the course of their career—leadership skills truly apply across the board. They are simply best practices for conducting your day-to-day. You don’t need to be in charge of a massive team to be a leader. You can simply be the leader of your own life and your own career. And by learning leadership skills, you also learn, as a somewhat unintended byproduct, how to be a better team player—which will have a positive impact on your collaboration and communication skills, too! (See how it all comes full circle?)
Thanks for sticking with me through to the end. As you probably have guessed, this is, by no means, an exhaustive list of how to leverage learning and development to prepare your employees for the challenges of digital transformation ahead. But it should be a wake up call that, in spite of all the technological innovation happening today, these soft skills—the qualities that make us effective in everything we do—will also make us even more effective when amplified by the power of all these new and emerging technologies.
Digital transformation doesn't mean that we forget about the human side of work. Rather, it just means that we have to work a little harder to ensure that we don’t let technology get in the way, all while embracing the bigger benefits of productivity and efficiency that it affords us. Now, more importantly, today is a special day: February 27 is Digital Learning Day. And we’ve got a special event for you to take advantage of that will allow you to hone in on all of these soft skills mentioned in this article—and a whole lot more—all for free!
Don’t miss out on this unique opportunity to advance yourself and your career in a big way. Visit Cornerstone’s Digital Learning Event page to get started. The portal will remain open until March 30, 2020. Happy (digital) learning!