How to cultivate digital talent and skills (Part 2)

There can be no successful digital transformation without the right people. New technologies and business models quickly become commodities that are available to all industry players. The difference between winners and losers is the ability to identify, recruit and retain the digital talent that makes the technology work -- and use it to develop new ideas and create new opportunities.

To build the people side of digital, companies need to answer four questions. In the first article in this two-part series on Sept 5, we explored how companies need to understand who is available on the market and who makes up the core of the digital talent they already have. We also established the need to identify new digital job profiles and the number of people required. In this article, we explore the last two questions.

1. How can digital talent be engaged, recruited and retained? This is indeed a challenge in an era when high demand for such talent and low-cost access to information puts the power in the hands of job candidates. We recommend the following easy ways to manage this:

Step into their shoes. Understanding how digital employees think is the most important factor. Although the 20 digital profiles we found in our research represent very different backgrounds and skill sets -- from experienced coders with a classic IT background to entrepreneurs, freelancers and conventional top-university neophytes -- they all seem to share a digital mindset. Employees with this mindset are entrepreneurial and inclined to data-driven decision-making. They focus on user-centred product and service development and are passionate about creating and building. They are experienced in multidisciplinary teams and favour collaborative and agile ways of working.

Install tech-savvy recruiters. More than 90% of digital employees today use online tools and communities in their job search. And they find new jobs in an average of less than two weeks. Companies thus need recruiting staff with social media and online networking skills, HR software capabilities and digital knowledge.

Look to new talent channels. The people you are seeking might be using only group-specific recruiting platforms, such as AngelList for entrepreneurs, GitHub and Stack Overflow for engineers, Dribbble and Behance for designers, or Kaggle for data scientists. However, recent technophile graduates may be using platforms such as The Muse or apps such as Debut. So, get to know these platforms and use them.

Target their interests. Recruiters can connect with digital talent in person, for example, by participating in targeted informal events such as CreativeMornings, a breakfast lecture series for the digital community that takes place in cities around the world.

Buy and build. A more costly approach is "acquihiring": buying a company not for its business or product line but for its talent. Alternatively, companies can create digital hubs or subsidiaries that have a startup-like environment and are more attractive to young digital talent.

Digitise and personalise. Once you've reached the right target groups, you need to speed up and automate the selection and recruiting process. At the same time, it's important to maintain a personal touch, finding a way to balance digital methods and personal appreciation. For instance, some companies use prerecorded video interviews to ask customised questions and gather responses from candidates early in the screening period, while others reach out more proactively to keep candidates engaged until the final decision is made.

Retain the new talent. To create an environment in which new digital employees will want to stay for the long term, companies can provide ongoing learning opportunities and interesting career paths. Other approaches include programmes and policies that show personal appreciation, create a positive work-life balance, and cultivate a collaborative, flexible workplace.

2. What are the skills the current workforce needs to keep pace with the digital transformation? Not all the digital skills you have identified must be mastered to the same level in every role. For each skill related to a given role, identify which of three proficiency levels is required -- basic awareness of the skill's value and purpose; intermediate possession of the skill; or advanced mastery of the skill. Basic awareness is the easiest to build and the most relevant to large groups of employees.

Organisations can also develop a comprehensive digital-skill matrix by looking at corporate functions and aligning them along the list of digital skills. Then, HR and the relevant functions can work together to create a detailed, company-specific version. With this matrix in hand, the company can embark on its overall digital enablement journey.

Digital enablement is a longer journey, depending on the starting point, business size and resources applied. Yet the effort pays off from the beginning, as employees across functions can start using their new skills immediately.

Welcoming a new culture: To create a truly digital culture, the organisation needs to introduce and adapt to new forms of cooperation, encourage more project-based work and run such projects in a more flexible way. It must introduce new working methods such as agile and user-centred product design, along with more experimentation and creativity, fewer fixed rules, and more tolerance for risk-taking.

Digitally savvy employees tend to be fast learners who crave responsibility and impact, but they will make mistakes; a culture that accepts failure is essential. The new culture should also extend to the workspace, utilising progressive office design to attract talent and foster innovation.

Isada Hiranwiwatkul is a partner, managing director and head of office for the Boston Consulting Group in Bangkok. For more information, please contact


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