As technology continues advancing rapidly, many companies have begun the process of a digital transformation initiative to capture increased profitability and maintain competitive advantages with peers. According to McKinsey, 80% of companies surveyed have begun this process.[i] While any change is hard, a digital change where many employees may be asked to “think like a techie” will be even more so.
Is it possible to take a non-technical employee and train them to competency in areas such as testing, troubleshooting, and even coding? Is it even a good idea?
Centralized IT functions are becoming more of a liability rather than an asset. Due to the speed of change, many companies do not have the numbers in IT to complete all the projects they are tasked with. Plus, dedicating resources to basic troubleshooting is a drag on IT’s productivity and headcount.
As a result, there’s a growing interest in upskilling employees to be “coding competent” or to at least rise to the level of “power users” for the software they need for their job. This is especially true in today’s tight labor market where technology-proficient talent is scarce and costly.
Here are 4 points to keep in mind when seeking to upskill your employees for a digital transformation initiative.
My experience in the IT field began as a SharePoint support desk staffer. I quickly learned that most people calling our support line were interacting with SharePoint as a part of doing their “real” work and didn’t want to learn new terms, ideas, or paradigms. In short, they wanted to leave the technology to IT.
The first hurdle in training a non-technical employee is that this mentality is common. Most technical training is created by a technical person. But the translation from technical to business terminology can be difficult.
One tactic to mitigate this problem is to avoid technical terms as much as possible. The more you can relate technology to real-world examples the better. For example, when working with clients in my personal IT business, I have explained email in terms of the postal service. I’ve also used pictures and diagrams to explain things like hard drive fragmentation. The usage of similes and metaphors is critical to accomplishing this.
According to Harvard Business Review, when trying to accomplish a digital transformation, aim to get employees’ mentalities into the top right of the quadrant shown below.
Engagement in training has a direct correlation to how much the training reflects what trainees will be doing once completed. Exercises become abstract and distant questions when they seem detached from a trainee’s current tasks at work.
To accomplish this high correlation, take some work that is currently on IT’s plate and let the trainees work on it. It turns training into a win-win:
Following on the previous point, it would not be fair to expect someone with no technical background to build a neural network in one day. But what is important is breaking the problem down into smaller pieces that are attainable. By doing this the trainee sees progress and stays involved throughout the whole training. They are invested in seeing a completed product. Using the quadrant above, it moves an employee that may be in the left axis (low confidence in learning ability) to the right one (high confidence).
In my field of robotic process automation, part of the development process is taking a target business process and slicing it up into discrete steps. This approach is a must for digital skill training. Giving the trainee too much to do makes them feel overwhelmed – a definite motivation killer.
So your upskilled employees are back in their jobs, now with the added ability to troubleshoot, test, and/or develop. But what happens when they encounter an issue, they are unfamiliar with?
Results will vary but given that you are unable to impart decades of wisdom no matter how long the training, there will likely come a point where they get stuck. And the best way to unstick them is to make coaching available.
Coaching is a rising workplace dynamic. According to a 2018 survey by the Human Capital Institute (HCI) and the International Coaching Federation (ICF), “33% of organizations now offer training for managers and leaders to use coaching skills.” Additionally, “83% of organizations planned to expand the scope of managers and leaders using coaching techniques over the next five years.”[ii]
Rather than providing mentoring, which is more of a one-way communication style (an inexperienced person seeks help from an experienced), the experienced employee may provide resources, but also ask open-ended questions such as “What do you already know that can help?” This is part of the coaching mentality, where such open-ended questions give the person being coached the opportunity to build their own knowledge and confidence. Instead of relying on a single source of help, the person being coached gains the confidence to know “I can do this.” As the person goes on to build their own coaching mentality, they can then coach others within the organization.
One final note on these tips: digital transformation is all about changing the way your company does business. Without the buy-in of your employees, this task is impossible. 71% of companies surveyed by PTC said that their workforce is important to digital transformation.[iii]
In order to gain the necessary buy-in, the trainers working with you need to be experts in technology and soft skills. Patience and empathy are musts. Your trainers must also be able to engage deeply with the questions your employees have. They must be able to convey not just answers, but also the confidence that your employees can make the transformation with your company.
As mentioned before, 80% of companies have started this process. However, a digital transformation initiative is a big undertaking, so much so that only 7% have completed it.[iv] Despite the challenges, the benefits your company stands to gain fair outweigh the challenges. These changes will also make your workplace no longer an office, but a team in the true sense.
Embarking on a digital transformation initiative is no easy feat, but with the right tools to support you along the way you can accomplish it! If you’re rolling out an organization-wide digital transformation check out our recent eBook on Large-Scale Rollouts.