As organisations try to keep up with progress on digital innovations, demand for ‘digital talent’ has become a hot topic. There is much anxiety about the lack of existing digital talent – but do we have an agreed definition of what it is? Many focus on the purely technical skills and roles – e.g. finding programmers, data scientists or anyone who understands blockchain – and these types of role are hard to attract, especially if you are not a glamorous start-up or brand name.

In our work helping firms to identify, develop and grow the new mindsets, competencies and skills required in the digital workplace, many HR leaders have told us that adapting to the fast-paced talent needs required by digital transformation is a major challenge. They also said that traditional talent frameworks are neither effective nor detailed enough to be actionable, because they mostly focus either on top-down values, or very granular technical skills.

Important as skills are from a technology perspective, organisations that wish to succeed in the digital realm also need to be able to adapt to constant change, as well as foster and harness collaboration and innovation. For an individual (or team) to be successful in this new digital workplace, they need to have more than just technical competencies. Larger organisations can compete in this non-technical talent space through scale of development, so digital talent approaches need to focus on whether a person (or team) has all the competencies required to flourish in an ever-changing environment. But where to start?

A digital talent competency map is a great way to begin. It helps to understand the existing talent landscape and – similarly to  traditional methods of talent mapping – this approach helps for hiring or development purposes. However, our take on a digital talent map has evolved beyond this to address much more specific digital needs, something which traditional methods tend to overlook as they were designed for a different time. Digital – as opposed to traditional – talent mapping is differentiated by:

  • Frequency: Talent mapping used to be an infrequent review highlighting skills needed for a role. A digital talent map is a continuously amended document that reflects the changing talent landscape.
  • Focus: There is a strong focus on digital competencies, which provides much-needed action-oriented detail.
  • Portfolios over pathways: The time for constrictive job descriptions is over! In a digital business context, roles are not static, so career pathways are not clear. To showcase talent, an individual now needs to build a portfolio of complementary competencies.
  • Resource sharing: As organisational structures become more fluid, collaboration and talent mobility become more likely. This emphasises the need for a shared understanding of talent across an organisation. What does your team need to fulfil its purpose? Can this be leveraged from elsewhere in the organisation?

There is also much confusion about terms used in this field. We can try to simplify talent-related definitions by using a real-life example. A domain is an area of expertise, such as tennis. Competencies are the proficiencies needed to fulfil this, e.g. a serve. A competency is composed of knowledge, skills and abilities. To serve, someone must have the theoretical knowledge of how to hit and throw the ball. They must also have the practical learned application (or skill), e.g. a ball toss. They may also have an in-built ability, e.g. can throw the ball up straight during a toss. Bringing this back to our nerdy world, a digital competency example would be psychological safety (i.e. employees feeling comfortable to challenge authority). This competency would belong to the domain of leadership, and an example skill could be framing problems as a learning exercise.

Against this background, digital talent also needs to distinguish between IT specialisms and broader digital competencies. Both contribute to creating a digital workplace, but need to be addressed differently. The classifications we tend to use are:

  • Technical: a deep specialism in a particular field (something an organisation can buy or rent)
  • Enabling: skills everyone needs for a thriving digital organisation (something an organisation would usually grow)
  • Transformational: digital differentiators only needed by digital leaders (which can be bought, rented or grown)

In the earlier example, psychological safety would be a transformational skill. Only leaders need this competency to foster innovation and idea creation. These classifications help us to understand the breadth of digital talent in an organisation.

We can then make a further distinction, between ‘experts’ and ‘hybrids’. ‘Experts’ are those with one or more technical competencies. ‘Hybrids’ are often more useful in a fluid, growing organisation as they comprise both technical and enabling/transformational competencies, e.g. a data scientist is a technical expert, but the same person is more valuable if they also have, say, communication competencies. Teams can also be hybrid in this sense, and it is more common to find multiple competencies in a team brought together for specific purposes, but the ‘hybrid’ idea is perhaps more relevant when thinking of individual talent needs.

We have applied some of this thinking, and combined it with our hands-on experience of leading successful digital change programmes in global companies and our original research, to create our Digital Talent Mapping service, which is aimed at meeting the challenges that HR leaders have told us they are facing in this area. This service quickly delivers:

  • A Digital Talent Framework tailored to digital reality and an organisation’s specific business situation;
  • A detailed Digital Talent Map, covering both current and future digital readiness, which can be evolved and maintained in-house with our custom software;
  • A comprehensive Digital Talent Catalogue and action plan, listing specific competencies requiring development and how to prioritise them.

Based on these products, and depending on client needs, the service can also include practical recommendations for leadership development, employee development, talent acquisition & retention, and designing new digital product or service teams, aligned with strategic objectives.

This approach has already taken months off our clients’ digital talent development plans and enabled them to quickly pinpoint the actions they need to take to build the right talent strategies for the near term and beyond, so if you would like to learn more about this work, please get in touch – we would love to hear from you and would be delighted to share some of the insights we have gained.