Six ways to increase your organisation’s ‘Digital IQ’

Business meeting around a table

Written by Elizabeth Marsh, Director of Digital Work Research Ltd,

Digital skills – or the lack of them – in organisations are gaining attention as their role in the success of wide-ranging digital initiatives is increasingly acknowledged. For senior leaders, tackling all things ‘digital’ means cutting through the hype and the noise to get at the real implications and practicalities involved.

When it comes to the digital readiness of the workforce, this starts with understanding both the digital skills challenge faced as well as the potential opportunities inherent within it. It also means getting to grips with the nature of digital literacy in the workplace – what it does and doesn’t mean – and then taking steps to improve it through measuring a baseline of staff’s digital skills and using research insights to shape an impactful programme of digital skills initiatives.

Here I outline 6 thinking points to help leaders wanting to raise the organisation’s ‘Digital IQ’:

1. Poor digital skills are hindering transformation

A lack of digital skills is hampering transformation and harming  organisations’ competitive advantage. This is the finding from several high profile studies by Capgemini, first with the MIT Center for Digital Business, and also with Linked In. The latter found that a deficiency in both ‘hard’ and ’soft’ digital skills inside organisations appear to be damaging the confidence of staff to work digitally.

Although investments in digital workplace technologies are generally growing (one estimate suggests more than 30% growth in the digital workplace market to 2023), these are not matched by investment in the digital skills of the workforce in most cases. In fact, according the European Commission, 88% of organisations have not taken any action to tackle the lack of digital skills of their employees. Realising the expected outcomes of digital transformation will require leaders and workers to be both digitally competent and confident. Indeed, recent empirical research has shown that digital literacy can contribute to digital workplace adoption via employees’ perceptions of ease of use.

As you define your digital strategy, consider the skills that the workforce need to adopt it fully and use it effectively. If collaboration is going to be key for success, how comfortable are employees operating in collaborative spaces and ‘working out loud’? If fast access to information for decision making is critical, how well versed are they in processing and applying information in the digital workplace? (And so on…)

2. Addressing digital skills represents a significant opportunity

Although the cost of training is seen as a barrier to raising the ‘Digital IQ’ of the workforce by many organisations, those that are getting it right through well-considered, targeted digital skills programmes are reaping enticing rewards. These include:

  • increased productivity – one study suggests as much as 33 minutes gained per employee
  • increased turnover – as much as x3 in organisations with digitally competent workforces
  • improved agility in taking advantage of digital opportunities in the marketplace
  • improved inclusion, well-being and engagement in the workplace
  • reduced cognitive load and wasted time for workers using digital tools.

In fact, research by Oxford Economics and Virgin Media Business (2016) claimed the UK economy could receive a £92 billion boost if firms fully develop their digital potential.

For leaders considering their organisation’s digital trajectory and future, there is a clear business case for investment in digitally upskilling the workforce. Indeed, not doing so is likely to harm the business on the same measures.

3. Digital literacy is not just a technical competency

Definitions of digital literacy abound. They range from relatively narrow descriptions of technical competencies, through to much broader conceptualisations that also encompass attitudes, social practices, and mindsets. As author Paul Gilster marvellously put it, digital literacy is “about ideas, not keystrokes”. The recently published Digital Workplace Skills Framework (which can be downloaded for free) provides a broad depiction of digital literacy in the workplace across four dimensions:

To get the most out of digital skills initiatives, leaders need to ensure that there is a clear definition of digital literacy agreed internally that is sufficiently broad to ensure that a well-rounded digital competence and confidence is fostered among staff.

4. Digital literacy is a multi-generational issue

Evidence suggests that developing the digital literacy required in the digital workplace takes more than just consuming digital media and connecting with friends on social networks via a smartphone. Being “digitally native”, it seems, doesn’t necessarily mean being digital workplace-ready. It’s an issue that concerns both senior leaders and students according to recent studies. 

For instance, Capgemini UK (2016) found 47% of senior decision makers do not believe that younger workers know how to use digital skills for work purposes, and JISC (2018) found that only 41% of students in further education feel their course prepares them well for the digital workplace.

As you shape your digital skills programme, make sure you consider the needs of all workers, rather than basing efforts on assumptions about what help is needed and by whom. The real needs of the workforce should be revealed when you measure your baseline (point 5).

5. Before designing initiatives – get a baseline

Organisations waking up to the digital literacy challenge are starting to make some ‘big ticket’ investments in raising the organisation’s ‘digital IQ’. For instance, PwC recently announced that its digital skills programme is one of the biggest single investments for the firm in 2018. 

But ensuring that investments result in expected benefits means having a clear view both of what skills are needed to realise digital transformation priorities as well as the current state of these skills among the workforce. This means getting a baseline before you get started. This is critical in order to:

  • gain actionable insights into your workforce’s digital readiness and a clear view of how it may help or hinder digital workplace progress.
  • understand where best to focus investment in digital skills initiatives to achieve the greatest impact and most beneficial outcomes, and how to design digital skills interventions.
  • get a baseline measure of current digital skills in the workforce against which to track the effectiveness of digital initiatives, as well as enabling recognition and certification.

6. Raising the organisation’s ‘Digital IQ’ needs a blended approach

Crafting a programme that will successfully enable the workforce to flourish digitally means taking a blended approach, furnishing employees with a range of opportunities to continuously learn and extend their skills. As well as offering formal training, that may take the form of a ‘digital driving license’ designed to get all staff up to a certain level of digital fluency, consider a number of other less formal approaches. For instance:

  • drop-in sessions, genius bars and cafes
  • digital academies that curate resources such as ‘how tos’, video clips or webinars
  • talks from internal and external experts
  • ‘bootcamps’ and mentoring for leaders
  • discussion groups and communities for peer support
  • digital champion networks to aid the spread of digital skills throughout the organisation
  • digital development plans to help individuals set goals and track progress.

As leaders consider how to best digitally empower the workforce, they should use insights from the research done at the outset to help define an ongoing programme of learning. One-size will definitely not fit all when it comes to digitally upskilling the workforce, and neither will a one-off injection of digital training – a blended and ongoing approach will be needed if the organisation is really going to reap the benefits.

Where is your organisation at on its digital skills journey? Is the digital literacy concept and the case for investment well understood? Have you done research that gives a clear picture of needs and where to start to achieve the greatest impact?

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