Why mindset is as important as skill-set in the digital revolution

 As we surge forward into the digital age, the struggle to find digitally-qualified manpower (or the ‘digital skills gap’ as it has become known) is becoming increasingly pronounced.

This deficit of digitally-skilled people poses a huge headache for hiring managers. But it’s not just a lack of workers with the right technical skills that is causing problems – the transformation of the workplace from analogue to digital isn’t only about tools and technology; the changes in the underlying company culture is where the focus must lie.

So what does a digital mindset look like and why is it important that all your employees adopt it?

The customer is king (again)
With digital weaponry like social media and star ratings, customer voices are louder than ever and you can’t afford to ignore them. Whatever you are selling, if you want to be selling it in a year’s time you have to listen to the paying customer and build your strategy and decision making around them.

In many cases, this new-found customer voice brings with it an extraordinary sense of entitlement – they demand to be heard and pandered to. They demand good service and they demand it immediately. And, as anyone who has ever made a phone call to a bank or utilities company will know, good service means human interaction, not clever automations and recorded messages.

So any customer facing employee – whether it be via phone, webchat, email or a real-life encounter - has not only needs to tow the company line, but do so with the right tone. To ensure that this tone is consistent and at the forefront of everybody’s minds, management will need to lead by example and impress these principles on staff through training. Stressing the importance of staff characteristics such as patience and empathy will ultimately help to keep your customers loyal.

But also remember that it’s no good to just listen to your customers passively. You also have to develop a marketing strategy that keeps them engaged without annoying them, without offending anyone and with a message that appeals to everyone regardless of ethnicity, politics, economic background, gender, sexuality or favourite football team.

Lean, mean, productive machine
Terms like ‘lean’ and ‘agile’ are often used in relation to business management. Implementing these methodologies is a big undertaking for businesses, however, ‘lean’ and ‘agile’ processes are relevant to any company that is trying to make it in the modern (digital) world where productivity and efficiency are key. So encouraging your staff to be inquisitive and bold will mean a happier and a more productive workforce.

Whether or not staff members are directly involved with these ‘lean’ principles, an awareness of the necessary mindset, such as cooperation, adaptation, working in small groups and embracing quick failures, will help the whole company to understand the bigger picture. Underpinning all these practices is a need for positive attitude, teamwork, inquisitiveness and pragmatism and by flattening out hierarchical structures and giving even the lowliest intern the power to speak up, the whole team can pull in the same direction.

Feathering the nest
Former Apple Chairman and CEO Steve Jobs said: ‘It's not the tools you have faith in. Tools are just tools – they work or they don't work. It's the people you have faith in or not.’

A company really is only as good as its employees. You need them to believe in your company and you need them to be happy. Hiring staff is a laborious and costly process, so to lose a staff member that you have trained and nurtured is bad for business, irrespective of their job title and skill set. It is just as damaging to have an unhappy staff member dragging his or her heels in the workplace and spreading dissatisfaction amongst their colleagues.

Keeping your staff happy is always going to be more about intangible factors than it is about what digital tools they have at their disposal.

First of all, you have to think about the company culture – what’s the office ‘vibe’? To retain precious talent you will need to consider fostering favourable working conditions such as a relaxed dress code, flexible working hours, flat hierarchy or progressive office design. To get the best out of your workforce the office has to be somewhere they feel comfortable and relaxed; so investing in a trendy coffee machine and a table tennis table might actually be a shrewd investment.

This brings me to staff well-being. Mental health is no longer spoken of in hushed tones, so implementing mindfulness sessions or in-house yoga will make people feel like they are being looked after.

Picking teams
In my role of placing graduates in jobs in digital marketing, I get to speak to dozens of graduates every day and receive even more CVs to read. From this I have learned that the technical skills a graduate has to his or her name is only a small consideration. What actually determines whether I can help them find work or not will be their attitude.

We ask that the graduates we work with are ‘hungry, humble and hardworking’ which has proved to be a good rule of thumb. You can have all of the technical skills in the world, but without these essential ‘soft’ skills, nobody is going to want you on their team.

I usually get a pretty accurate idea of whether a graduate will be easy to place or not within 10 or 15 seconds of chatting with them, but for many companies the stakes are too high to take any risks. With the potential negative impact of unwittingly hiring a non-team player, formal psychometric evaluations of applicants are now commonplace.

These psychometric tests are designed to examine a broad range of competencies, from verbal to numerical reasoning, but also more personal qualities which can often be difficult to predict from face-to-face interviews. The risk is even greater for smaller companies where the pain of a poor hire will be felt more acutely.

So you can see that, without the right shared mindset, both companies and individuals are doomed to fail.

Technical skills will be to the digital revolution what machinery was to the industrial revolution. Without developers working on artificial intelligence, virtual reality and the Internet of Things there would be no revolution… but don’t underestimate the importance of spending time developing soft  skills – for the techies as well as us modern-day Luddites, because the non-skilled workers are still in the majority and probably always will be.


Lucy Smith is founder of DigitalGrads a platform that trains graduates in digital marketing and then connects them with employers. https://www.digitalgrads.com