Upskilling for Digital Transformation:  Managing Resource Constraints

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Organizations committed to growth through innovation understand the need to address their professionals’ emerging skills gaps. The first two articles in this series describe an approach to reskilling professionals for digital transformation that will require many organizations to re-examine their current training strategy. 

Finding the will and the way to undertake skill building for digital transformation starts with buy-in at the senior leadership level and the allocation of significant resources to make an impact. 

In essence, developing the skills of your professionals should be thought of as a strategic initiative on par with any other monumental organizational changes, such as a merger or the expansion into a new geography, product, or service line.

If your organization has similar aspirations but finds itself with limited resources, here are three steps to effectively budget for digital transformation skill building

A clear strategy drives long-run efficiency

The first two articles in this series argued that learning strategy is the starting point in addressing the digital transformation skills gap. A well-designed learning strategy drives consensus around critical questions like:

  • What organizational skills do we need to develop?
  • What is the best way to build these skills throughout our professionals’ career?
  • What other talent development tools do we have at our disposal to reinforce and support what we teach through formal learning events?

A carefully considered, well-defined and communicated strategy is a prerequisite for the efficient use of resources over the long term.

The strategy gives you a reference point for answering the inevitable question when you head into uncharted waters, “Are we going in the right direction?” While it is certainly possible to overthink the strategy and suffer “paralysis of analysis,” the more common scenario is for organizations to rush through the strategy development phase.  

The old construction saying “measure twice, cut once,” is applicable here. An ill-defined strategy invites missteps that can damage the credibility of the learning team and slow the digital transformation momentum. No organization gets transformational change right the first time—you will make mistakes. What you need to avoid are self-inflicted wounds caused by a failure to prepare.

Reallocate resources between technology and learning

Most organizations have focused on the technology side of innovation, and those spearheading digital transformation have been busy learning and evaluating the various technology options, running pilot tests, and rolling out solutions. It’s easy for this vetting of technologies to take on a life of its own, and if leadership isn’t careful, “digital transformation” becomes too heavily weighted toward the “digital.”

Overly focusing on the technical side of innovation and short changing the people side sets the organization up to realize only short-term service delivery wins that are easily replicated by others and provide no long-term competitive advantage.

Remember the problem you’re trying to solve. To be more responsive to client expectations, retain relevant and deeper client relationships, firms want to shift from being a service provider to a source of insight and advice. That is the skills side of innovation, and the technology is the means to the end.

One solution to solving the resource problem is not to obtain more resources but instead to thoughtfully allocate the resources you do have. Tally up the time and money you’ve spent on digital transformation over the past two years and how much was allocated to technology development and how much to learning and skills development. 

If you’re like most firms and the technology investment greatly outpaces the learning investment, then it’s time to reevaluate your resource allocation.

Demand more from your learning team

Your learning team may be a valuable but underutilized resource. Many firms use their learning managers to execute the operational side of training—scheduling courses, registering participants, tracking attendance, etc. But just like finance and accounting professionals who can be more than just technicians, your organization’s learning leaders may have what it takes to play a more strategic role in talent development.  

At a minimum, organization leaders should vet their existing learning personnel to evaluate whether they have the skills and the network within the professional learning community to deliver a plan for addressing the skills gap. 

Properly directed and resourced, organizations may be surprised at what their existing staff may be able to produce. Only after a thorough assessment of existing capabilities should the organization look to a learning consultant to have someone “figure it out.”

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