Adapt or be left behind; that is the demand of the new digital economy.
Digital transformation is changing how companies work and deliver to customers, how they train employees and the shape of the future economy. But before an employer can learn how to collaborate with new machine partners, it must first prepare employees to reap all the benefits those partners offer, today and tomorrow.
The newest members of the workforce most likely grew up wearing ear buds watching YouTube; mid-level workers may have one foot in the digital universe and another in analog, while seasoned employees may still be learning to program the DVR. Addressing the training needs of these disparate groups is challenging. Before an employer walks them through the programs, however, L&D must get them ready in the first place.
HR Dive spoke with Carrie Altieri, IBM's vice president of communications for people and culture, about prepping staff for the digital transformation in a company that has been an iconic tech provider in the market for over 100 years. "We saw this coming a bit earlier than the rest of the market, and started prepping for it 4 to 5 years ago," she told HR Dive. "The disruption was immense. We needed to examine what had to be done and how to do it with agility and to scale."
In response, the company reinvented its LMS into a system that customizes learning for each employee at every stage of their IBM journey. Others may have to follow suit.
Prepping for the transformation from L&D's POV…
The most important first step is to ensure training is scalable and deliverable to all employees — distributed, remote or in-house, Tom Griffiths, co-founder and CEO at Hone, told HR Dive. "We need to meet learners where they currently are in order to optimize for engagement and completion of programs," he said in an email. "Learning leaders must also ensure that their training programs are: contextual and interactive, measurable, and continuously reinforced."
Nick Collins, president of Telstra Americas, noted that digital transformation is "technology-enabled, but people-led." He cited Telstra's recent study that revealed businesses are placing too much emphasis on tech alone as a "differentiator for digital transformation decisions." The data found businesses that are highly digitally mature show a greater focus on their people and processes.
"This reaffirms that successful digital transformation, relies on more than the right technology — it requires the right culture," he said in an email.
…and from the employee's
The effects of automation are "undoubtedly going to be felt most deeply" by frontline employees like cashiers and truck drivers, Rachel Carlson, CEO of Guild Education, told HR Dive. But these employees, many of them without degrees, have a different set of educational needs than a traditional college student or white-collar worker. Carlson noted that "supporting these students' long term economic success is a function of tying together the worlds of work and school such that the learning that occurs in one place reinforces the other, making it so employees do not have to choose between their job and their education."
IBM sought to address the magnitude of change that had to happen and the way people worked. They looked to create transformational leadership behaviors to keep things moving forward. "How well leaders take signals from the market and put them into practice was just one step," Altieri said. "How were our leaders taking feedback and coaching? Creating conditions for people to speak openly? They need to go to teams and actively ask for feedback, putting the user's needs first."
Transformation is here to stay, says Altieri, and management practices have to reflect that in every respect.
Additionally, businesses must look inwards as well as outwards for talent, Collins said, and he suggested companies learn to understand which skills and talents that can be nurtured within existing employee bases and bring in heavy-duty training programs to equip teams with the skills they need to drive their company strategy.
"Digital transformation is a journey," he said, "and for companies, this must be a whole of company journey ... It's not enough to bring in new digital talent; this must be a journey of all employees to create the right environment for digital change."
Can tech help personalize tech?
L&D must equip employees with the right tools and technologies they need to thrive, while also making sure to balance tech advancements with the fundamental human element of what makes work meaningful, Griffiths said.
"When it comes to technology and the workplace," he added, "it is always about balance."
IBM threw out its LMS and developed an AI powered platform for learning personalized by job role. "It's called Your Learning," Altieri said, "because your experience as an employee would be different than mine." The tech gives staff options for courses to get the skills they need and the skills they will need for the next job they want.
The unprecedented pace of change means training has to focus on new skills as well as new behaviors and mindsets, Collins said. "These programs need to adapt employee mindsets to view change as normal," he added, "and to be comfortable with discomfort and ambiguity." Employers also have to improve employees' appetite for risk and collaboration, he added.
Griffiths says the first step in moving staff through a digital transformation is honesty and open communication. "We often hear the word ‘transparency' in the modern day workplace, but it isn't just a buzzword. Transparency is rooted in the need for human connection and authenticity," he said. "With honesty and communication, no matter what new programs or technologies you are trying to implement, your people will not only be prepared but may even be welcoming to the new waves of growth." Crafting training programs based on real employee pain points can help equip them with the skills to further prepare for coming changes.
Finding alternate career pathways within an organization for employees whose job may be augmented by technology should be a priority for learning and development leaders, Carlson said. One of Guild's partners tailors its education benefits to specific degrees that would allow employees an opportunity to grow within the company. "This approach builds loyalty in its existing lower-skilled workforce while getting them trained for jobs that require more skills," she added.
IBM tells its employees that the half-life of skills is changing. In the broader market, it's about 5 years, but in tech it can be less than 3. "We're upfront about what kinds of skills will be required on each part of our business in the future," Altieri said. "We take our employees through that each year. That transparency is actually driving the workforce to consume more education."