Emma Cerrone: Addressing the digital skills gap; three steps for HRDs

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The UK is failing to keep up in an increasingly digital world. A recent House of Lords report highlighted the country’s “significant digital skills shortage”, warning that digital skills are now a non-negotiable part of Britain’s future. But all is not lost. From our work in helping companies on their ‘digital transformation’ journey, we have seen first-hand that businesses can successfully embrace a ‘digital skills for all’ attitude.

As the guardians of an organisation’s collective skillset, HR teams play a key role here – but what steps must they take to put a ‘digital transformation’ programme into action? There are four key steps HR leaders should take.

A collective vision

Embracing digital is no longer optional – it is a competitive necessity. However, that will not be enough to achieve genuine buy-in across the business. Think about why it matters to every stakeholder in your business.

At its best, an HR team is a powerful catalyst for change. But change in any company requires a collective vision – and a strong desire to work towards that vision. Having worked with Barclays to train over 1,000 staff in the building blocks of digital skills, the importance of this has become clear. Barclays was able to communicate a clear vision with clear benefits: a goal to become the most digitally savvy bank in the UK.

Put people first

Don’t just link ‘digital transformation’ with technology. New trends like BYOD (bring your own device) and remote working are becoming popular, but they are not a catalyst. In 2013, Barclays ordered 10,000 iPads. The tablets were distributed among branches up and down the country – in a move designed to radically overhaul Barclays’ customer services. Except it didn’t, because not everyone knows how to use an iPad.

New devices may look great or help improve processes, but the impact of giving your staff access to digital skills is far greater. Showing faith in your employees’ digital potential is a powerful move, and hugely rewarding for them as individuals. There are countless examples of how people drive digital transformation, not technology. From Starbucks’ cross-function teams to Deloitte’s digital reverse-mentoring initiative, the message is clear: successful digital transformation means putting people first.

Foster your ‘digital champions’

Any change programme needs a champion or two, and digital transformation is no different. Some staff might have a known interest in learning about coding or social media, for example, but others might discover a knack for it out of the blue. Be prepared for your ‘digital champions’ to appear in unexpected places – there is digital potential across the whole of your workforce, from graduates through to the boardroom.

When you discover your digital evangelists, foster their newfound skills. Reward the ones who show initiative and a willingness to put their digital knowledge into action – and encourage them to share their infectious enthusiasm with colleagues.

Again, we’ve seen this play out first-hand through working with Barclays. Their ‘Digital Eagles’ programme has grown from 21 bright and passionate people to over 10,000. This growing community is a huge asset to the business, helping customers to embrace online banking services. The bank is charging ahead of its competitors and leading the way across sectors on all things digital.

ROI isn’t just jargon – it’s a necessity

Rolling out such a significant change programme is a big investment. For any organisation, that makes it vital to measure and demonstrate the tangible impact of embracing digital. This helps get the board on-board and creates a sense of momentum – a vital characteristic in successful transformation projects. Training sessions and workshops are inherently valuable – but remember that the biggest impact begins after they leave the room, and put new skills into practice.

Your chosen route for measuring impact may evolve over time, as HR becomes a more data-driven function. However, the lesson will remain: this is a fantastic opportunity for HR leaders to take the lead by measuring the return-on-investment of addressing their company’s digital skills gap.

Clearly, company-wide change is a long process – but these four steps should set you on the right path. By agreeing on a clear vision and putting people at the heart of the process, HR leaders can introduce a successful digital transformation programme that engages and inspires from the boardroom to the frontline.

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