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Building a workforce for the future: four steps to digitally up-skill employees

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/gpointstudio)

As every business becomes a digital one, the risk of skills obsolescence is a growing threat, with the digital skills gap beginning to restrict growth. Traditional approaches to up-skilling are no longer relevant, which is leading many businesses to craft their skill strategies around the idea of a ‘Digital Quotient’: a concept created by McKinsey, which assesses an organisation’s digital maturity based on its strategy, organisational structures, capabilities and culture. One of the core pillars of this is ‘silo smashing’ across virtually every realm of business and technology.

Whether it’s DevOps, Design Thinking, or Agile, businesses are building teams that expand beyond specialised skills and focus rather on end-to-end skills and fundamental digital enterprise capabilities that can achieve enduring goals. When the teams are reconstituted to support an end-to-end process, the skills for any particular role typically look a lot different. A system admin may need to know a lot more about development, a developer may need to know about user experience, a line of business executive may need to know about the cloud. The skills to support a digital enterprise are comprised of these new stack skills along with foundational literacies, general competencies, and character qualities.

Arriving from the future

In the modern world we need something very similar, people who seem as if they arrived from the future. We must create our own Connecticut Yankees who seem like they are arriving from the future because of their high digital quotient. They must be at once open to learning new skills and to adding new proficiencies to their roles. This means they must live in the world of value and of product, and master the skills needed to bring that vision to life. We cannot wait for this type of person to magically arrive at our companies - we must create them, using four key building blocks.

The idea of Digital Quotient captures this notion of reshuffling skills and rapidly acquiring new ones. It is effectively an IQ for the digital age. Improving a firm’s Digital Quotient means hiring staff who don’t operate within siloes but across them, and who are continuously aware of the latest disruptions in their industry. These staff are reflecting the experience of Hank Morgan, the engineer who was transported to the UK’s Dark Ages in Mark Twain’s novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. In Twain’s novel, Morgan arrives with all sorts of scientific and engineering knowledge and uses it to wreak havoc on his medieval hosts.


  • Converged Skills for the New Stack: One result of silo-smashing is that there is convergence of skills across business and technology. But at the same time, a new set of technology skills must be adopted so that the creators of the unified digital platform are cloud native, infrastructure and security aware, and are able to perform converged infrastructure engineering to reduce the operational burden to as close to zero as possible.
  • Foundational Literacies: We must seek to educate our entire workforce, not just individual teams, to be broadly literate in areas such as analytics, finance, IT, and cultural developments. This knowledge helps broaden the workforce’s ideas and inspires them to build the products and services of the future.
  • General Competencies: To create the springboard for innovation and creativity, we must train our staff in new methods for critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication, all of which have become far better understood. Instead of just demanding innovation, we must teach practices like design thinking that synthesise these competencies.
  • Character Qualities: Importantly, the organisation’s culture must constantly teach and reinforce staff to think and act according to the highest values and standards. It must imitate disciplined organisations that have learned how to create leaders, to instil character traits like curiosity, initiative, persistence, adaptability, and social and cultural awareness.

Rowing in the same direction

While raising an organisation’s Digital Quotient is a sizeable task, it’s far too important to be overlooked. When digital quotients rise, so does business performance – for every type of organisation. Across each building block, it is important to define a clear re-skilling and training plan from a long-term perspective.

The benefits of doing so are huge, effectively doubling staff skill sets. A user experience designer usually has a key skill set that includes the usual suspects of graphic and User Interface (UI) design, but if their employer has been working on its Digital Quotient, they might also learn skills for data analysis, information architecture, and application architecture. A software engineer, meanwhile, may also be able to learn deeper competencies in cloud infrastructure, security, networking, and database design and optimisation. Having this wider set of skills means individual employees are more likely to be able to overcome problems, and work in a more innovative way, making the wider organisation stronger as a result.

What we are seeking is a new form of alignment, one that is incredibly challenging but once achieved allows creativity and energy to flow in a coordinated stream, like a crew that all rows together. People who have a product focus, broad skills, and deep alignment will seem like modern-day Hank Morgans, employees from a company of the future, as they work to create a better future for today’s organisations.

Kalyan Kumar, CVP and CTO, HCL Technologies