How a lack of digital skills threatens digital transformation

I follow some very smart people on Twitter. Sometimes they tweet and blog stuff that’s way over my head. Often I agree with them. Occasionally I don’t.

Last night, I spotted a tweet from Matt Ballantine (@ballantine70) that I felt compelled to rebel against. I’m late to the party (the tweet is nearly a week old – which is an age in the Twittersphere) but this is what Matt had to say, together with my response:

I’ve long held the view that locking down PCs is missing the point. Even when BYOD was “a thing” (around 2010), I was writing that we needed to stop worrying about devices and operating systems and to start looking at data and applications. Now that’s becoming mainstream thinking – mobile device management (MDM) is finally being replaced with mobile application management (MAM) – and organisations are finally realising that laptops and “hybrid” devices are also mobile devices (it’s not just about tablets and phones).

The age of lockdown is also starting to wane. Yes, organisations will still have corporate builds and still control what employees can do with the tech running on their networks but to get back to Matt’s statement – I simply don’t buy that the lockdown is causing people to have an inability to navigate the Internet safely.

A general lack of digital skills

You see, I’ll suggest that the reason “the workforce [do not have] the heuristic skills necessary to safely navigate the Internet” is a general lack of digital skills. We (in general) have not evolved our technical skills for the use of “office productivity” tools since the mid-1990s. When I was at Uni’, I used MS-DOS 6.0 and WordPerfect 5.1. By my final year, I had progressed to Windows 3.11 for Workgroups and Word for Windows 2.0. And the way most people use a word processor they might as well still be on that platform. In general, people don’t use the features and functionality in our bloated Office products. They just type words, put blank lines in for spacing, pick some fonts manually (ever heard of styles?) and save.  I could use similar examples for presentations in PowerPoint or for spreadsheets in Excel. The introduction of the ribbon in Microsoft Office circa 2007 was said to be an attempt to surface the features people use the most (but features couldn’t be removed entirely because telemetry told Microsoft that everyone uses some of the features, just not all of us, all of the time).

At his Middle School (then aged around 9-11), my son was commended for his tech skills because he was able to offer classroom IT support to the teachers. That’s not because he’s a tech genius but because the staff at the school didn’t know how to use Windows+P to connect to an external screen. To be fair to his teachers that’s not unique to them – it’s the same in most offices too. Similarly for booking calendar appointments for meetings (a black art to some) or not sending email attachments to share documents. The list goes on.

We teach our children to be safe on the Internet but many adults struggle too. “Would you like to see the dancing pigs?” Oh, go on then – click anything to make the box go away. Followed by “Oops, why is my browser opening all of these windows showing sites with pictures of scantily-clad ladies?”. This is not a new phenomenon either.

I’m in danger here of going off on a bit of a rant, so I’ll stop for a moment and focus on what many of us talk a lot about today – digital transformation – or rather how the digital skills gap is hindering our ability to transform.

Digital transformation

Consultants like me work with organisations to help them adopt new technologies in order to address business issues, embrace change and, ideally, adapt their business to innovate – perhaps even disruptively. At least, that’s the idea – far too many organisations seem to want to “run an Office 365 project” rather than to “deliver a flexible workstyle facilitated by modern end-user computing services delivered using a software as a service model”. If they can’t see past the tech, it’s unlikely they will deliver true digital transformation.

Even if their business processes evolve, do the staff have the skills to embrace the change? Do we have one generation (mine) still stuck in 1995, whilst the millennials want to do everything with apps on their phones (incidentally, I think a lot of the stuff written about millennials is rubbish too – but that’s something for another post)? As Lewis Richards (@stroker) notes below, being digital is a mindset.

People Change Management

Many of us understand change management from a technology or service standpoint – but what about people change management? This is where models like the ADKAR model (from Prosci) can help*

ADKAR stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement – as illustrated below:

The Prosci ADKAR model

It’s about taking people on a journey and helping to manage organisational/people change:

  • We build awareness with communications, model offices, etc. to help people become aware that a change is on the horizon. People are naturally resistant to change, so we need to make them aware of it, take away the initial shock and let them get their heads around what’s happening.
  • After we’ve made people aware of change and helped them to understand why it’s happening, we turn our attention to helping people to embrace the potential. Initially, this is about desire – selling the benefits of the change so that people are asking “when can I have this?”.
  • Knowledge is developed through training. That might not be classroom-based – it could take many forms – but fundamentally it needs to address the skills that people need to adapt to the change – avoiding the digital skills gap I mentioned above that’s be brought on through years of introducing new systems and expecting people to just “get on with it”.
  • Once equipped with desire and knowledge, people gain the ability to function in the new way.
  • Finally, business changes need to change to take advantage of new capabilities. Critically, the new methods and processes need to be reinforced to ensure that organisations don’t fall back into their old ways of working.

Using this model (or something similar), we can equip people to adapt to change and even embrace it. And with suitably skilled people on board, digital transformation has a much better chance of success.

In conclusion

People’s apparent inability to use technology well is not down to the way that corporates have traditionally managed devices. It’s down to a general lack of education and training around digital skills. As we navigate the current wave of digital transformation we have an opportunity to redress that balance. And if we don’t, then we won’t see the benefits and we’ll fail to transform.

 

*This is not an advert for ADKAR – that’s just the model that I’m familiar with. Other change management methodologies are available. Your mileage may vary. etc. etc.

Leave a Reply