Digital success requires pirates, rogues and rebels. Here’s 5 things you can do NOW to start unleashing them.

The skills that you have traditionally valued in staff are becoming out of date. Organisations need to consider the new skills that will underpin their ability to respond to a changing future.

Until AI and robots deem us to be entirely irrelevant, we’re going to require some humans. We need to hire them, to ensure they have the right skills for the present and future of your organisation, and then find a way to keep them. In the past organisations have sought to build divisions of specialists to fulfil very specific roles, but in the age of digital responsiveness you’re going to need to reconsider what skills and personalities will best suit a period of constant change. Some examples:

When your organisation needs to embrace constant change, you need people who are great learners, and can adapt to new settings. These people will find ways to make the new digital projects you’re introducing a success. Since participation increasingly takes place online (particularly when pandemics strike!), staff who can comfortably share stories and learning are going to help your digital culture gel and evolve. Also people who have a greater range of general skills will be valuable, as specialist cognitive knowledge is increasingly owned by tech, and people need to be more versatile, adaptable and (re) inventive. Now is definitely the age for the generalist.

Individuals who have a more entrepreneurial mindset will find opportunities and take advantage of them, or find problems and solve them. In an environment where creativity or leadership is expected at all levels, ‘intrapreneurs’ are essential. Finally, staff who can grasp logic and digital systems are pretty handy if your future is as a digital organisation (which it is or you won’t survive). To increase your digital capacity and capabilities, it’s time to stop thinking about IT as a support service, and tech as everybody’s responsibility. This will be a significant change, and my final skill is facilitation or coaching skills which will allow you to make this shift happen. For those of you in my beloved domain of health, the good news is that you have this in abundance: your clinical workforce (I’m going to write an article about this soon).

An alternative (and probably better) view in an excellent book called The Human Edge by London Business School’s Greg Orme, provides four interconnected C’s that could define you or the desirable skills of staff in the years ahead. I’d recommend the read for your own personal development.

Source — The Human Edge by Greg Orme (Non-Amazon link). Ugly scan is my fault. It looks very nice in the book.

So what about the pirates, rogues and rebels? 🏴‍☠️🦜

Well firstly it sounds pretty cool, and pirates are very much in fashion at the moment.

But more importantly, if you consider the range of softer skills above in combination, then what we’re describing is encouraging agency, and initiative within your workforce. People may find a voice and disagree more, or take that initiative to steer things in directions you may not anticipate (or potentially like). They may use digital tools to collaborate in new ways, demand greater visibility of things that were previously private and request that certain things are done differently. If you’re in a leadership role this might feel like an uncomfortable prospect.

However, I’d argue that firstly you’ll have little choice in promoting and hiring (or competing) for these qualities, in order to survive. On a softer note (pun intended), maybe you’re simply undoing something unnatural, and acknowledging and harnessing the qualities that make us human, and moving away from the unspoken perception that employees can, or should be precision instruments. By promoting and celebrating these skills, and then finding ways for them to translate into productivity everyone wins: happier staff who are relevant in a digital world, a more productive and successful business, and for leadership a chance to use your own skills and talents instead of trying to hold on to everything until you keel over from stress and exhaustion.

Here’s five actionable things you can do right now.

ONE — Look at what training you’re investing in now, consider whether it promotes those skills. But beyond this, since soft skills can’t always be trained and need experiences, then consider what internal experiences you can create that cultivate them. Could you launch an experiment or a ‘moonshot’ project.

TWO — Consider how many of the softer digital-age skills do you look for in job adverts? Ask the most entrepreneurial rogues in your teams to look at a job description and see whether it excites or bores them. You won’t get pirates if your adverts don’t sell the glory of exciting adventures and creative digital plunder.

THREE — Find a way to celebrate and reward those soft skills. Instead of looking at productivity or income as the marker, why not seek to showcase who has been the most entrepreneurial or creative member of the team over that month. Celebrate it.

FOUR — Look in the mirror. Are you and your senior staff role modelling and representing these kinds of skills? Discuss this and see what you can do about it. After all, the way senior staff dictates how others will act. A great free initiative is to consider reverse mentoring from your most creative staff to your leaders who need that challenge.

FIVE — If and when things feel uncomfortable, or leaders worry about the loss of control, don’t seek to control it, but instead to discuss it. Share why it’s worrying and try and acknowledge the change that you’re having to experience, see how you can make it their responsibility to accommodate this. This is your journey too.

Liam Cahill is the founder of Sector Three Digital. For more articles, ideas and insight please follow or connect with Liam here.

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Big and small ideas about how you can get your digital change on.

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Liam Cahill

Liam Cahill

I’m Liam. CEO of a social consultancy called Sector Three Digital. We help organisations respond to the disruptive present and future.

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