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Ready for the Digital Era

I-O psychologists can help companies prepare

It’s clear to most business leaders they should be preparing their organizations for the digital economy.

87% of companies see digital transformation as a competitive opportunity, according to Marinus van Driel, associate partner at Aon. Further, 82% of companies are going through some type of digital transformation, and 27% of senior executives believe their future depends on becoming digitally enabled.

But for many, it is not clear what it means to be “digitally enabled,” or how to go about becoming so.

Van Driel says the concerns Aon is seeing in its clients reflect broader industry needs. “Organizations have a need for people who are digitally enabled or have digital talent. They need better ways to identify digital talent. They need more leaders that can drive a digital agenda, and certainly, they also need to start thinking through downstream activities like how to attract and retain digital talent as well.”

AI, artificial intelligence, has become a buzzword in the ongoing conversation about the digital workforce. But as van Driel notes, “AI is just one of very many different types of tools that we have available to us in the digital space.”

He points out that AI and other digital tools can be used to do familiar jobs and “add value to how the work is being done, so it can be done faster, it can be done better.”

Not everyone has to be able to write computer code or create and implement AI programs. Some jobs require those abilities, but there is a much broader and more attainable skillset that will help companies and their employees compete effectively in the new landscape. Identifying employees who have or can develop that skillset is key to making the leap to digital.

Aon has created a short list of core competencies for employee success in the digital era. The three most important are learnability, curiosity, and adaptability.  

“You start thinking about learnability,” van Driel explained, “It's how well people learn about things. Then when you start thinking about curiosity, it’s asking, are people trying to really explore new things for themselves? And then adaptability, can folks adapt to new ways working?”

Those three core competencies are supported by eight more, including a mix of personal qualities and business skills.

Assessing potential hires for digital competency is important, but the labor market is tight, with record low unemployment. According to a recent report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), it take an average of 42 days to fill an open position, with an average cost per hire of $4,129.

Depending on the task, it might be faster and more economical to train current staff. Further, training current employees can contribute meaningfully to their loyalty to the company. Retaining employees is far more economical than hiring new ones to replace those who depart. Another SHRM report says it costs the company about 1/3 of an employee’s annual rage to replace that worker.

“It just makes sense,” van Driel says, “to take stock of the talent you have internal to the organization. Odds are people have the behavioral DNA to actually succeed in the digitally-enabled roles and may just need some reskilling or retooling.”

An organization’s digital readiness really begins at the top, with leadership. Van Driel says leaders who are willing to engage in the process, and who have the stamina to lead it, are key to successfully making the transition.

“The qualities that you need for somebody to help enable a digital transformation are akin to those that are used in the transformational leadership literature,” he says. “You clearly need people who can articulate a vision. They also need to be able to see what that vision is upfront. Then on top of that, they just need to be really, really good change leaders.”

“What that requires is to be able to meet your people where they are, be able to express what it is that they need to know in the moment, be able to help support folks through whatever their journey is, and then certainly enable them to do and embrace the work in the way that it will be changed.”

Specific changes to undertake depend on the organization and the tasks employees perform. Van Driel suggests thinking about rote activities that can be automated, “And then start anticipating how people can then be leveraged in a way to add more value to the organization and to the organization’s stakeholders, whether those are clients or internal stakeholders.”

Added value makes the effort required for digital transformation worthwhile. “I see technology as an opportunity to create a lot of really amazing outcomes for organizations,” he said. “If you look across industries, every point in terms of size on the scale, all organizations actually stand to gain more jobs by embracing technology, than jobs being taken away by technology.”

“The technology is super powerful,” van Driel concedes, “but at the end of the day, it's still people in your organization that are going to do the work. So, you need to come up with human solutions to technology problems to be successful.”

Assessing job requirements and talent competencies are core professional skills for industrial and organizational psychologists, along with job design and employee development plans.

Aon, along with many of the other professionals listed in the SIOP Consultant Locator, can help any size business achieve success with their digital transformation efforts.


For more information, contact Marinus van Driel


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