The Essential Competencies for Digital Transformation

by David Barrett, Chief Commercial Officer of global assessment specialist cut-e.

To survive in the digital future, organisations need a fluid structure, an agile culture and employees who are ‘digitally-ready’ to cope with rapidly changing circumstances. Digital readiness is not about being proficient with technology – it’s not about whether you can use Excel or mobile devices – and it is not related to age. Every employee now needs the ability to perform tasks, manage information, share knowledge and work with others in a digital context.

Research by cut-e highlights that three core competencies are now required in the workplace: Learnability (the desire to develop and improve), Agility (the capability to adapt quickly and effectively) and Curiosity (being open to change, and inquisitive and enthusiastic about new approaches and initiatives). If your employees achieve a low score on these core competencies, they’re unlikely to feel comfortable in a digital workplace. And if they’re uncomfortable with their new work requirements, they’re unlikely to be effective in their role. Digital readiness is ultimately about whether they’ll have a preference to work through the means of technology.

Although these three core competencies are key, eight others are also important. These vary according to the job in question. Depending on the role or the seniority of the position, different degrees of competence in these areas will be required. These eight supporting competencies are:

• Drive to succeed (proactively taking initiative and following through to accomplish objectives);
• Handling data (evaluating situations and analysing information to form data-driven decisions);
• Strategic solutioning (solving problems creatively and balancing the needs of all stakeholders);
• Business acumen (understanding the business and the needs of customers, and developing new opportunities);
• Virtual collaboration (inspiring and interacting with others remotely, and working together towards common goals);
• Digital communication (communicating, influencing and maintaining a rapport with others via technology);
• Mental endurance (resilience and the ability to cope with pressure and setbacks);
• Coaching mindset (supporting the development of others and motivating them through feedback and encouragement).

No matter how technology changes or jobs evolve, these competencies will help your employees to adapt and thrive in a digital world. Some of them are new versions of established competencies. For example, the ability to collaborate with others has always been important in organisations. However, there’s a subtle but sizeable difference between the behaviours and attitudes that are required to achieve this through technology, as opposed to doing it ‘face-to-face’.

The good news is that your organisation can become ‘digitally-ready’ in two steps. Firstly, you can use this competency model to assess your existing staff and put in place development interventions that will address any competency gaps that your employees may have. Initially, you could start by assessing your leaders and helping them to create development plans for their own improvement. Senior managers should be the catalysts for, and role models of, successful digital working. With the right development, you can build and cascade this capability throughout your organisation.

Secondly, you can modify your employee selection process to ensure that you now recruit candidates who are strong in these competencies. The essence of good recruitment is to match the person to the job. These competencies represent the success criteria for tomorrow’s job roles, so it makes sense to integrate them into your competency framework and to recruit against them accordingly.

One minor problem here is that these competencies and requirements are not easily measured by conventional assessment processes. However, it is possible to assess them using a modified personality questionnaire and a cognitive ‘executive attention’ ability test. Doing this can reveal an individual’s proficiency in each competency, as well as their overall strengths and their areas for improvement.

Success for any organisation is about attracting, developing, nurturing, engaging and retaining the right employees. With this new competency model, you can secure your organisation’s future in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world by developing your staff appropriately and recruiting new, digitally-savvy employees.