A framework to develop a digitally enabled workforce

When Wim Piot reached out to us proposing to publish a blog entry on Your Tomorrow, our programme for a digitally enabled workforce, we wrote in the content calendar, right next to the title “to be consulted” (we didn’t exactly know what was at stake). Talking about our business experiences is particularly interesting when we dissect them and lay a groundwork that’s useful for you, our reader. Otherwise it’d be only one of those corporate tales that we (arguably)  prefer to tell you over coffee.

We reached out then, to Wim and, later on, to Gregory Blachut, who runs the programme internally. By now, the digital upskilling experience we’re having in support of our digital transformation has brought about several lessons that Gregory and the team working with him wanted to share with us and, by default, with you. 

At the end of the day, there is no business or organisation on the entire planet whose need to anticipate and prepare for the digital skills requirements that the future of work holds isn’t ranking high or is sitting already on the podium.  

“Be digitally fit”, is proclaimed conspicuously (and tirelessly) both in the digital and analog realms. But to be digitally fit, one has first to be digitally literate i.e. acquire, apprehend, keep up-to-date  and advance the skills to live and work in a digital-tech led society. 

Ergo, investing in employees’ digital literacy is a business staple to running any upskilling or reskilling programme. All of them combined can help organisations stay abreast with new methods and remain relevant. That’s the most basic (and first) lesson of our digital enabling process, Wim told us.  

Digital literacy includes everything from composing emails, browsing the internet, using CRM systems or posting on social media to performing data analysis and being able to develop digital platforms. But that’s only the technological part of it. What’s also behind it is developing the skills to communicate, use content, transact, solve problems, be a digital citizen and learn how to remain safe and legally compliant online. 

All that makes us digitally literate professionals and, from there, organisations have a solid base to develop a digital enabled workforce that answers the needs of the business and those of its stakeholders.   

Conscious about the number of look-good-on-paper (or on your screen) types of article that tell you the what but rarely the how, we have taken the opposite direction. We’ve put together an article that tells you, precisely, how to run a digital upskilling programme at organisational level based on our own journey. 

 
The digital upskilling prerequisites: Innovation and change management

The underlying motivation to develop a digitally enabled workforce is, primarily, to last and to continue answering what employees, clients and stakeholders expect from the business. Or, said simply, it’s to stick around as a business. 

However, to stick around, people’s mindset has to be poised to embrace change, and “adapt” and “adopt” must be added to the list of unskippable verbs the business wants to practice.

Ideally, digital upskilling and, in general, any effort businesses carry out to advance employees’ skills call for a documented change management approach that supports transformation initiatives. And right after, on the back of the page that follows that approach, one dedicated to innovation is also necessary. Defining and stating what the business’s take on innovation is and how it engages with it will make your digital upskilling efforts more senseful and coherent. 

Bringing about innovation forces any business to rethink many processes, including operational strategy.

 
From digital literacy to digital upskilling

In itself, digital literacy is a form of upskilling. 

However, the one we are referring to is linked to improving or advancing the employee’s employability, which in turn enables them to take an active part in the digital transformation of the business.  

The benefits of a business investing in developing employees’ digital skills are several, but we want to highlight two in particular: 1) it improves operational efficiency and 2) it influences employees’ motivation, the reputation of the firm and employer branding.   

Regarding operating efficiency, enabling people digitally can reduce time consuming processes, cut down on paper, free up employees to carry out more added-value and rewarding activities and, what’s more, allow more time to engage with customers, strengthen relations and be responsive to their needs.

But from words to action there is a long road to travel on, we all know that. Building an entire workforce to be digitally savvy is a colossal job, and intending each and every employee to reach the same saviness level is unrealistic and likely unattainable. Digital technologies are changing so rapidly that the cat-and-mouse game that all businesses are playing is tiring and makes upskilling more challenging. However, what’s even more important to highlight is the fact that not everyone has the same motivation to be digitally upskilled. 

The need to define a digital upskilling framework is, then, necessary, one that answers the nature of the business work and suits it best and defines priorities. For instance, we at PwC Luxembourg have taken data analytics and data management as the pivotal matters to upskill our people in the first instance. This is the second lesson learnt we wanted to share with you. 

 
Citizens, promoters and accelerators

Once we had data analytics as a framing theme, we went further to decide on an employee-led approach to learning, because it is more effective to let people choose what knowledge they want to acquire. As a result, we defined three categories of learners or upskillers based on the data management needs of our work. Afterwards, they could subscribe to one of them.

 

  1. Digital citizens, who require an awareness level of data and analytics tools.
  2. Digital promoters, who get purposeful knowledge to take advantage of data analytics tools at user level. 
  3. Digital accelerators, who, with more than 200 hours of training, are armed with the skills, knowledge and digital technology to help solve complex business challenges. They are trained with deeper experiences in digital, agile thinking and problem solving, 

This is to say that the aim isn’t for the digital accelerators to become data scientists or advanced programmers; they are meant to be, instead, professionals capable of using software that processes data and eases their day-to-day work and the ones of the teams they belong with. 

As Gregory puts it, simply, the idea is for them to do business… with the right tools!

 

No, I don’t want to participate in your digital upskilling programme

The employee-led approach to learning will, doubtlessly, also result in a number of employees who don’t want to participate in any level of the digital upskilling programme.  

Indeed, one has to admit that not everyone has the profile to be digitally upskilled, or it can also be the case that they don’t fall into the digital scope the company has decided to be focused on. 

However, search for a way to make these employees part of the digital transformation of the business. For instance, they can be surrounded by professionals that have decided to be upskilled and that’s already positive because of the cascade effect.

Remember, digital transformation is a progressive exercise. 

 
Time, that precious upskilling asset

While each business has a different understanding of digitalisation and takes the digital upskilling angle that works best for them, what’s unavoidable is the need for freeing employees from client-facing/revenue-generating work so that they can undergo upskilling. 

Just as there must be an innate and natural interest of employees to embrace digital upskilling training at different levels depending on their interests, there must also be a commitment from the business to grant them training hours that are part of their regular work schedule. Expecting employees to train outside of work hours is not only mistaken, but it will be ineffective and lead to the programme’s failure in the long run. Voilà, the third lesson learnt. 

Whichever the business hierarchy, we recommend a smooth validation process for employees to participate in the digital upskilling programme. 

The time variable isn’t the only key during the employee’s training. It’s even more important afterwards. After all, the digital upskilling exercise should result in tangible outcomes. To some employees, for instance the digital accelerators, time is necessary for the development of work tools (in our case, data analytics tools!).  For the others, make sure that upskilled employees actually use the tools they have learnt about or are involved in tasks involving the use of those tools. This influences motivation and the success of the digital upskilling programme going forward.  

And, ultimately, think of bringing about community projects so that the tools, techniques and overall digital knowledge can find widespread implementation. 

By the way, here is a successful example of digital upskilling

 

New digital tools need new governance

Governance, that pervasive need that keeps our operational processes and decision making organised is also part of the digital upskilling algorithm, if there was one. And, because the latter is closely linked to the business’s innovation mindset, it should be balanced, otherwise the innovative spirit is killed. 

A digital upskilling programme needs governance when applying the upskilling framework, the digital tools creation process, the community projects and any spillover that results in new products and services that the business can ultimately offer to clients. Its depth and breadth also varies on the business area whose people are developing new tools as a result of being upskilled. In all cases, we consider that the guidance of the Data Officer is always a requisite because regulation such as the GDPR is overarching. This is our fourth lesson.

We asked Gregory how PwC Luxembourg actually does it. While all lines of service Tax, Advisory, Assurance and Internal Firm Services have an approval and documentation process in place, he explained, it is more strict for the latter. For assurance and audit, traceability is a must; also, the team leader always intervenes for regulatory compliance reasons.

Greg went on to explain to us that team leaders aren’t necessarily digital accelerators today, and that is part of our current business legacy. However, slowly but surely, some of them—or a large majority of them—will be supported by tech-savvy people who have a thorough understanding of digital needs and can support teams on the creation of new tools.

 
Enabling Intrapreneurship with digital upskilling

Let’s go back to the innovation topic, commonly linked to intrapreneurship and entrepreneurship. We want to focus on the former because it has to do with the community projects we referred to above. 

Enabling and animating a digital space where employees can design, contribute, and use solutions that transform your business is a pretty powerful idea. Think of it as one of those open source platforms that have become so important for the development of digital technology globally. 

In our case, PwC has created, globally, the Digital Lab, an exchange platform or digital tools center that gathers all the projects that the accelerators have created. We consider it as a citizen-led community. At the local level, this is where our digital accelerators, who are permanently rethinking the way we work, upload and share the data analytics tools they have created. The overall idea is to make knowledge sharing more agile and accessible. 

This highlights the important role that internal communication plays in any digital upskilling programme, our fifth lesson. 

Because, thankfully, physical exchange is still a thing, organising exchange events and workshops to enrich collaborative work is also a good idea. We cannot deny that the COVID-19 crisis has impacted the development of the local digital upskilling programme and has slowed down its development but we’re slowly getting back on track. 

 

How to measure the digital upskilling programme success?

Success. Regardless of the way your business decides to measure the success of the digital upskilling programme, take this aspect seriously. 

You know, the bottom line is always linked to numbers and the continuity of the programme is highly influenced by tangible results. Here are some ideas to measure success based on our experience: 

  • Variable: Number of digital projects; KPI increase/decrease number of them year-on-year.
  • Variable: Projects adoption; KPI: number of people using the tool and how frequently they do it. 
  • Variable: Brand reputation (image in the market regarding how innovative the business is perceived); KPI increase/decrease in positive sentiment. 
  • Variable: Number of spillover projects to create client servicing tools.  
  • Variable: Efficiency and performance
  • Variable: Client satisfaction (if operations are more efficient internally, this will impact client satisfaction). 
 
What we think
Grégory Blachut, Director at PwC Luxembourg
Grégory Blachut, Director at PwC Luxembourg

Because no business can skip the digital wave, think of the digital enablement of your people strategically. Your upskilling programme, ideally, must hold on to the overall business approach to innovation and needs to be accompanied by change management. 

Thank you!

We thank Bernard de Villepin, Anne Cotton, Ashley Johnson, Grégory Blachut, Wim Piot, Zsuzsa Kozula, Emilie Schmitz, Salim Boukhelouf and Grégory Beauchenne for their invaluable work as Your Tomorrow Team members!

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