How to raise the digital intelligence of your workforce

It’s clear that technology is very much a part of our daily business. It’s also becoming ever more apparent that we need a workforce that can not only keep up with change, but one that thrives on innovation.

Now that’s all good and well, but when the pace of change is so rapid and the possibilities so vast, how do you ‘achieve’ a workforce that can keep your business in the vanguard?

It may seem daunting, but there are ways.

Digital at heart

Alastair Barlow FCCA, founding partner of flinder, founded his business just over two years ago with a very a clear blueprint with digital (technology, data and digital culture) at its heart. flinder is taking a less traditional approach to practice accounting by developing an in-house data engineering team.

The dedicated data team working alongside the firm’s finance professionals has created a symbiotic knowledge-sharing platform too. “We have ‘Champions’ who share hints and tips on how to use the more complex applications we use. And the data engineering team share what they are working on in monthly peer group sessions and our All Hands huddles.

“Digital intelligence is not just about using technology, but about getting a better experience or result from using it”

Alastair Barlow FCCA, founding partner of flinder

What you can do:

  • Barlow believes the best thing a firm can do is learn from others, look at what’s happening in the market place, beyond the accounting profession. “There are other sectors to learn from that are further ahead.”
  • The most accessible resource: Share knowledge that exists within your company; make people experts and champions; create learning groups like huddles and sociable learning sessions out of the office.

Re-skilling and up-skilling

“To enhance and grow the digital skills of a workforce, adequate training is essential,” said James Brent, director at Hays Accountancy & Finance. “Organisations that offer flexible and bespoke training to employees will be the ones to keep up with the pace of digital change, as opposed to infrequent training programmes that quickly become outdated.”

Fortunately, thanks to the internet, developing ongoing in-house training initiatives is much easier to establish and accessible, as well as being more affordable to smaller enterprises and more easily tailorable to specific business needs.

“Online learning can be particularly beneficial as it can be updated regularly and allows staff to learn at their own pace and reread any training materials when required”.

James Brent, director at Hays Accountancy & Finance

What you can do:

  • Offer ongoing or frequent, accessible, flexible and tailored training; online courses are a good option.
  • External courses should be considered for professional body certifications or more specialised, in-depth topics.

(Reverse) mentoring, diversity & inclusion

Less formal training structures such as mentoring can also allow employees to shadow those with the most experience in the digital field, and increasingly this is taking the form of “reverse mentoring”. Here, the knowledge flows upwards from young professionals, many of whom have grown up in a digital world, never having known life without the internet.

“Although still emerging, reverse mentoring is helping to create a more diverse and inclusive workforce, one that reflects the world around us,” said Brent.

Which is key to modern business, as having a group of employees with wide-ranging views and differing opinions does not only improve company culture, but it also encourages innovation and allows new views on the best ways to implement digitisation to be openly debated and discussed.

What you can do:

  • Pair younger, digital native employees with senior staff. May be tricky for both parties initially, so provide support, encouragement and structure where needed.
  • Encourage open-minded culture that embraces lifelong learning and inclusivity – this starts at the top, the leadership, so practice this.

Company culture

Organisations need to foster a culture of change in response to automation, so that employees feel attuned to the ways in which technology is impacting their day-to-day work.

Part of this transition means having an understanding of how digital processes are changing business models and how these can be applied to drive efficiency and improve productivity.

“This type of change often comes from the top as leaders assume responsibility for spearheading the digitisation agenda. This has been made clear by Robert Half’s 2019 FTSE 100 CEO Tracker, which showed that the proportion of FTSE 100 CEOs with a background in technology has increased by 27% in the last year.”

What you can do:

  • By encouraging the right environment, one open to suggestion, listening and learning from all corners, your workforce will not only be comfortable with technological change, but will become change makers.

Hiring

A good hiring strategy should reflect and boost a company’s culture. For this, Brent recommended hiring for potential and not just experience.

“Try to hire staff with the right attitude and emotional intelligence to build a positive, adaptable, open-minded and curious workforce, who importantly, will bring with them business and commercial acumen”.

Such soft skills are, ultimately, much more difficult to teach than the technical skills required, but will be key in allowing businesses to adapt to changing digital skills.

What you can do:

  • Assess your hiring strategy and approach for fitness of purpose; what changes could be made to open it up to a wider field

Summary

Technology has the ability to transform the workplace. The focus for employers should now be on ensuring that employees have the resilience, courage, and confidence to adapt and embrace technology today, and to set the agenda for its use in the future.

Neil Johnson is a freelance business journalist who contributes regularly to trade publications and member organisations, covering employability, recruitment, business trends and industrial analysis.

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