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One of the biggest challenges organizations face in responding to digital disruption and the magnitude of its implications, is knowing where to start.

This applies to the question of capability building just as much as to any other aspect of digital change. Often the tendency is to look for a major strategic intervention. But in the context of an unfamiliar, uncertain and rapidly evolving environment something which is more exploratory and ‘agile’ in nature, based around learning and experimentation, progressively ‘taking ground’, and expanding and evolving over time, is much more likely to prove successful. Such an approach has 6 key elements:

  1. Build Executive understanding – provide education for senior executives and other key employees on digital developments so that they can start to ‘make sense of digital’.

  2. Start to build an appreciation of the mix of capabilities that the organization is likely to need to succeed in the digital age, and compare this to the capabilities that the organization can currently call upon.

  3. Based on this, identify potential routes to accessing and enhancing the new capabilities required, and the practicalities and implications of these. While the tendency might be to focus particularly on recruitment here, of far greater significance in the context of the over-arching digital transformation is the nature of the learning offer that will help enable existing employees to embrace digital.

  4. Based on this assessment, take two or three considered and practical initial actions that are judged to be of benefit in building the capability required. These are only the first moves in what should be seen as a longer term campaign; as such, they should enable the organization to make progress in its capability building ‘journey’, but should not be overly ambitious.  For example, rather than seeking to develop and roll-out an organization-wide learning offer, it is preferable as a first step to undertake one or more pilot courses to test the possibilities with a manageable (and carefully selected) group of ‘guinea pig’ employees, and then use their feedback to help inform the design and format of the broader program. This also helps build a cadre of potential ‘champions’ who can assist in the subsequent extension of the training to a wider group.

  5. Monitor and evaluate these initial steps, to determine what progress is being made, whether there are barriers which are impeding progress and which need to be addressed, how the steps need to be modified, built upon, extended, or even abandoned, and so on.

  6. Through a process of ongoing review, learning, and iteration the organization should over time ensure that it is able to progress an evolving program of activities which builds the capability required – and at the same time ensures that the enabling and supporting processes become increasingly aligned with the overarching intent.

In practice, all of these steps need to run continuously and concurrently, as part of a wider campaign of digital transformation.  Digital realities are changing so rapidly that understanding what’s happening needs to be constantly updated; and in light of this, the capabilities needed will also be continually evolving, so there will always be a gap between what’s available and what is currently on hand, which organizations will at all times need to be finding ways to address.  Ultimately, the essential capability that we will all need – organizations and individuals – in an age of rapid change and uncertainty is to become ever more adaptable.


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