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To succeed in the digital economy, build an adaptive and collaborative workforce

Digital transformation is mainstream, and enterprises are no longer asking “why?” but “how?”

At the core of digital transformation is the ability to build adaptable organizations with a focus on continuous learning and process agility. Rapidly evolving digital technologies like cloud, IoT and AI can frequently be leveraged to create new business outcomes, but only if the enterprise is adaptive and composable at its core.

Organizational structures and cultures across industries are at the tipping point of change, as enterprises are challenged to create a technically savvy, culturally diverse, and agile workforce.

Organizational Structures Are Constantly Evolving

The “born digital” leaders such as Google, Apple and Amazon are built around an adaptive organizational core that’s difficult to replicate in legacy enterprises. However, such enterprises can commit to digital transformation by rebuilding organizational agility.

Many digitally progressive enterprises have achieved this, including T-Mobile, Walmart and Best Buy by building collaborative cultures and delivering unique digital experiences to their customers.

To create organizational agility, enterprises need an adaptive workforce, strong technical and engineering talent, adoption of design/UX for business process restructuring and multi-disciplinary teams. Business and IT teams can no longer afford to create silos and must work in constant collaboration.

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With these opportunities come new challenges. Consider remote workers, who are leveraged to build on-demand teams from a global talent pool. A 2018 Forbes article stated that almost half of the U.S. workforce is remote, and this number is rising. The challenges associated with this shift include ensuring that remote workers receive required training and upskilling, are well-versed in digital technologies and agile delivery processes, and are integrated into multi-disciplinary teams.

Create a Workforce that Expects Disruption

Enterprises that thrive in the digital economy do so by hiring lean, agile teams of people who leverage technology as an extension of themselves and are ready for continuous learning. Employers need to create a culture conducive to learning and provide the requisite resources to help workers along this journey of continuous improvement.

By providing continuous learning opportunities, enterprises benefit from a workforce that is ready for constant changes in technology. A digitally adaptive workforce produces greater innovation, enterprise agility, and the capacity to predict, rather than react to market changes.

Creating a culture of learning also helps enterprises hire and retain top talent, as studies have shown that for next-gen employees, the ability to learn while working is a top factor contributing to a company’s appeal as a potential workplace.
Below are some actions that business leaders can take to support a culture of continuous learning:

Evolve hiring processes

Expertise is increasingly more important than years of experience, and the ability to collaborate exceeds individual brilliance. Tim Brown, Founder of IDEO, established the term “T-shaped employees,” where depth, expertise and the ability to collaborate are the key attributes for employees.

Hiring practices should change to reflect this transition, moving beyond scripted interview questions, instead testing candidates in situations they could expect to face at work. An effective technique is hack-to-hire initiatives, which test candidates’ ability to innovate, collaborate, fail fast, and bounce back – all attributes that signal resilience and adaptability.

Combine learning and performance

While the current generation of employees is typically more learning-focused than its predecessors, it is important for organizations to incentivize continuous learning. This can be done through initiatives that link performance with a drive to learn. This is exemplified by companies that support temporary cross-functional roles for their employees, giving them an opportunity to build expertise beyond their function and gain a more holistic view of enterprise operations.

Create accessible learning paths

Enterprises should create learning tracks tied to career progression both within and outside the organization. One approach is partnering with universities to launch credit-based programs that allow employees to upskill, upgrade their resumes, and gain practical on-the-job experience by applying said skills.

HR and IT should collaborate to make content easily accessible, ideally on consumer-grade technology platforms. It’s important to ensure that work and learning do not interfere with each other; for instance, instead of mandatory group sessions, enterprises could record webinars for on-demand access.

Employees on a learning path should be able to gain experience by interacting with the teams working on projects that require the use of that skill. This promotes internal mobility while fostering cross-functional thinking.

Revitalize the learning and development function

The learning and development function should shift focus from content creation and facilitation to a more complex role, leveraging technology to lead the enterprise cultural transformation toward continuous learning. The objectives of the learning and development function should include creating employee-centric learning experiences and promoting interdisciplinary thinking.

Investment in Continuous Learning Matters

Enterprises must rethink, restructure and reinvent their approach to upskilling their workforce. While not an initiative that yields instant returns, investing in a culture of learning is no longer a matter of choice, but a necessity. Businesses that get it right will find themselves attracting and retaining the best talent, and in possession of a workforce that can keep up with the challenges presented by a dynamic world.

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