Over the years, I’ve engaged with leading organizations by helping them put together training programs, curricula and ongoing workforce development plans to support their digital transformation. By internalizing their challenges and opportunities, I’ve developed a keen understanding of the critical competencies required to be successful in today’s digital economy which I’ve summarized into this list of 10.
1. Learning Agility
Being able to learn rapidly and flexibly is critical in a world where the half-life of skills is shrinking. What is required to become an agile learner?
• Taking ownership of personal and professional growth.
• Adopting a growth mindset and the belief that capability can be developed through continuous learning.
• Identifying and embracing strategies for gaining new knowledge, behaviors and skills.
• Learning from others both within and outside the organization.
• Adopting new approaches to expand the scope of one’s work in order to learn more from work assignments.
Digital transformation requires resilience to accommodate rapid transformation and to nimbly adapt or pivot in response to changing patterns in a dynamic business environment. What does resilience require?
• Being open to new challenges and changing one’s ideas and perceptions in response to evolving circumstances.
• Developing the capacity to grow from adversity and using adversity to innovate and improve.
• Seeing challenges as opportunities to learn.
• Developing the capacity to emerge stronger from failure.
3. Creative Problem-Solving
In the digital economy, the routine elements of jobs are declining. The majority of jobs are becoming nonroutine and more cognitive, so solving unstructured problems is key. Creative problem-solving requires:
• Flexibly using different problem-solving strategies and searching for competing alternatives before making decisions.
• Communicating and working with others across disciplines, gathering feedback on solutions and redesigning solutions until the best one is found.
• Keeping the big picture of the problem in mind while also focusing on its specifics.
• Applying technology in ingenious ways to solve hard problems.
4. Digital Dexterity
The digital component of jobs is accelerating, putting a premium on workforce digital dexterity. Digitally dexterous workers accomplish more by distributing tasks among machines, software, apps, cloud communities, open applications and personal virtual assistants. This means:
• Developing the ability and the desire to use new and existing technologies for better business outcomes.
• Demonstrating fluency to leverage technology for advantage in unique and innovative ways.
• Embracing the importance of participating across virtual and physical environments to communicate, collaborate and mobilize social and other networks in agile and creative ways.
• Mastering new technologies for continuous skill development.
5. Data Literacy
Data and analytics are pervasive in all aspects of business. Given the importance of data, an employee’s data literacy plays a critical role in an organization’s digital dexterity. What does data literacy imply?
• Framing opportunities for effective data-driven decision-making by narrowing down problems and testing assumptions.
• “Thinking in data” by constantly identifying data needs and categories and sources of data that can be accessed.
• Carefully analyzing data in order to uncover what story it is telling and how to best present complex data to drive sound decisions.
6. Critical Thinking
Rote, predictable, manual tasks will be automated as robots augment human intelligence. This places a premium on critical thinking. Tasks today require more judgment and decision-making, greater complexity and the nonroutine. Critical thinking entails:
• Assessing the scope and potential impact of an issue or opportunity and using business criteria to evaluate alternative courses of action.
• Using questions to identify and check assumptions, distinguishing relevant facts from opinion and seeking perspectives from others in managing assumptions.
• Exploring arguments for accuracy, precision and logic.
• Leveraging the power of analogical and computational thinking.
7. Deep Collaboration
To drive innovation and solve tough problems, work is increasingly defined around projects that require teams of people from different functional areas with unique but complementary skills. The requirement for high-performance teaming is strong and the future-fit employee knows how to collaborate on a deep level. What does this entail?
• Being aware of how the organization is structured, its culture and different power groupings.
• Building coalitions internally and externally to achieve objectives.
• Developing skills in empathy and conflict management.
• Collaborating with members of formal and informal teams in the pursuit of common vision, values and goals.
• Placing team needs and priorities above personal needs, fostering synergy within and across teams and involving others in making decisions.
• Drawing on the strengths of colleagues and fellow team members and giving credit to the contributions of others.
Expectations and demands from customers and employees change constantly, but empathy continues to lie at the root of customer centricity and effective working relationships. Having empathy implies:
• Possessing the ability to take an analytic, creative and iterative process that leads to desired outcomes.
• Communicating and working with others across disciplines, observing and acknowledging other people’s emotions and active listening to understand and work with others effectively.
• Avoiding emotional overreactions.
• Overcoming personal biases that stand in the way of effective, diplomatic communication.
9. Diversity Mindset
Innovation comes from diversity of thought and experience. Creating an environment where diversity can flourish allows organizations in the digital economy to be more innovative. A diversity mindset means:
• Maintaining an awareness of and openness to diversity.
• Internalizing the importance of accommodating differences and conveying respect for different perspectives.
• Listening with an open mind.
• Adapting behavior and fostering inclusion and sharedness.
The global pandemic has changed the way we work by increasing the need for location independence. Employers increasingly place a premium on self-reliance. What does self-reliance entail?
• Focusing on desired results and business outcomes.
• Setting and achieving challenging goals, defining mutual expectations in a team setting and taking actions to ensure obligations are met.
• Defining personal performance standards and revising standards in response to changing business needs.
• Being resourceful and taking initiative to achieve results despite barriers or difficulties.
The continuous development of the workforce is the competitive advantage and the strategic mechanism that enables the digital organization to thrive. These ten competencies are where organizations and employees should focus development efforts.