As we surge forward into the digital age, the struggle to find digitally-qualified manpower (or the ‘digital skills gap’ as it has become known), is becoming increasingly pronounced. This deficit of digitally-skilled young people poses a huge headache for hiring managers. But it’s not just a lack of workers with the right technical skills that is causing problems - the transformation of the workplace from analogue to digital isn’t only about tools and technology, and changes in the underlying company culture is where the focus must lie.
So what does a digital mindset look like, and why is it important that all of your employees adopt it?
The Customer is King (Again)
With digital weaponry like social media and star ratings, customer voices are louder than ever, and you can’t afford to not listen to them. Whatever you are selling, if you want to be still selling it in a year’s time, you have to listen to the paying customer, and build your strategy and decision making around them.
Unfortunately, with this new-found customer voice comes an extraordinary sense of entitlement - they demand to be heard and pandered to. They demand good service…..and they demand it now! And as anyone who has ever made a phone call to a bank or utilities company will know, good service means human interaction, not clever automations and recorded messages.
So any customer facing employee - whether it be via phone, webchat, email or (heaven forbid) a real life encounter - has not only to tow the company line, but do so with the right tone. To ensure that this tone is consistent and at the forefront of everybody’s minds, management will need to lead by example, and impress these principles on staff through training. Stressing the importance of staff characteristics such as patience and empathy will ultimately help to keep your customers loyal.
But also remember that it’s no good to just listen to your customer passively. You also have to develop a marketing strategy that keeps them engaged without annoying them, without offending anyone, and with a message that appeals to everyone, regardless of ethnicity, politics, economic background, gender, sexuality, favourite football team….
Lean, Mean, Productive Machine
Terms like ‘lean’ and ‘agile’ are often used in relation to business management. Whilst implementing these methodologies is a big undertaking that means adherence to a strict list of rules and feedback loops, the tenets of ‘lean’ and ‘agile’ processes are relevant to any company that is trying to make it in the modern (digital) world, where productivity and efficiency are key. So encouraging your staff to be inquisitive and bold will mean a happier and a more productive workforce.
Whether staff members are directly involved with these ‘lean’ principles or not, an awareness of the necessary mindset such as cooperation, adaptation, working in small groups and embracing quick failures will help the whole company to understand the bigger picture. Underpinning all of these practices are a need for positive attitude, teamwork, inquisitiveness and pragmatism, and by flattening out hierarchical structures, and giving even the lowliest intern the power to speak up, the whole team can pull in the same direction.
Feathering the Nest
"It's not the tools you have faith in. Tools are just tools - they work or they don't work. It's the people you have faith in or not.” - Steve Jobs
A company really is only as good as it’s employees. You need them to believe in your company, and you need them to be happy. Hiring staff is a laborious and costly process, so to lose a staff member that you have lovingly trained and nurtured is bad business, irrespective of what their job title and skill set is. Just as damaging is to have an unhappy staff member dragging his or her heels in the workplace, and spreading dissatisfaction amongst their colleagues.
Keeping your staff happy is always going to be more about intangible factors than it is about what digital tools they have at their disposal.
First of all, you have to think about the company culture. What’s the office ‘vibe’? To retain the precious young talent you will need to consider fostering favourable working conditions, meaning a relaxed dress code, flexible working hours, flat hierarchy and a progressive office design. To get the best out of your workforce, the office has to be somewhere they feel comfortable and relaxed, so investing in a trendy coffee machine and a table tennis table can actually be a shrewd investment.
Then there is staff well-being. Mental health is no longer spoken of in hushed tones, so implementing ‘mindfulness’ sessions or in-house yoga will make people feel like they are being looked after.
In my role finding graduates jobs in digital marketing, I get to speak to dozens of graduates every day, and get sent even more CVs to read. From this I have learned that what technical skills a graduate has to their name is only a small consideration. What actually determines whether I can help them find work or not will be their attitude.
We ask that the graduates we work with are ‘hungry, humble and hardworking’, which has proved to be a fairly good rule of thumb. You can have all of the technical skills in the world, but without these essential ‘soft’ skills, nobody is going to want you on their team.
I can usually get a pretty accurate idea of whether a graduate will be easy to place or not within ten or fifteen seconds of chatting with them, but for many companies the stakes are too high to take any risks. With the potential negative impact of unwittingly hiring a non-team player, formal psychometric evaluation of applicants is now commonplace.
These psychometric aptitude tests are designed to test a broad range of competencies, from verbal to numerical reasoning, but also more personal qualities, which can often be difficult to predict from face-to-face interviews. And the risk is even greater for smaller companies, where the pain of a poor hire will be felt more acutely.
So you can see that without the right mind-set both companies and individuals are doomed to fail.
Technical skills will be to the digital revolution what machinery was to the industrial revolution. Without AI, VR, IoT (etc) developers there would be no revolution…but don’t underestimate the importance of spending time on the ‘soft’ skills - for the techies as well as us modern-day Luddites. The non-skilled workers are still in the majority, and probably always will be.Lucy Smith is founder of DigitalGrads a platform that trains graduates in digital marketing and then connects them with employers. https://www.digitalgrads.com
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