Ensuring your business is future-proof relies on having a team who are prepared to stay ahead of technological advances.
We are in a world of constant change – much of it driven by digital technology. Employers need to embrace all that change offers to help their staff keep pace and to maintain their competitive edge.
That means ensuring that workforces are both able to deal with life as we know it today and be prepared for the future.
There’s little point in merely teaching staff how to use v2.0 of the latest software if v3.0 will be a game-changer when it comes along.
Surely what we need are staff who have the skills to not only adapt to future technological developments to get the most from them, but who embrace change and the potential it offers?
I’d argue that we want to train staff to be confident in experimenting and exploring what technology can do, so they can drive the use of technology through your business, as well as just learning how the current new tech works.
Making learning digital
Digital learning solutions allow employees to tackle new topics in bite-sized segments at a time and place that suits them.
However, the benefits that digital technology brings to organisations go well beyond delivering information.
We build our expectations of what will come next on what we know now.
They include sparking thinking about ways of working smarter, process automation and an ability to focus resources.
Businesses that make the most of technology can better adapt to the changing needs of their customers, but also develop their staff’s potential to the full.
Digital literacy: a core skill
Digital is not just a solution, but a challenge in and of itself. Employers need their staff to be digitally proficient, and are increasingly seeing it as a core competence when recruiting.
Educators know that it is not enough to ensure that students graduate with core technical knowledge of their programme - they must also develop a high degree of digital literacy to prepare them for digital life now and in the future.
Employers also need to work hard at developing the confidence and competence of their existing staff so that they too can work in an increasingly digital workplace that is almost constantly updating itself.
Is digital literacy enough?
Learning professionals often worry about what we need to teach our staff to ensure they can work in the technological world of today.
What software do they need to learn how to use? What devices do they need to know about? Which social media should they be talking to our customers on? How can we help them see the benefits of AI?
These are all valid, important questions, and we need to address them. But do they help us in the future? Do they ensure that our workforce is the best it can be today and tomorrow?
In the future the most important core skills will be curiosity, innovation, and creative thinking.
Walking on water Back in 1900, German chocolate company Hildebrands produced a series of postcards that pictured the wonders of life in the year 2000. One thing to look forward to, would be taking a Sunday stroll on a lake with the aid of balloons.
It seems laughable to us today – but it also shows how little of the future we can predict.
We build our expectations of what will come next on what we know now. If Henry Ford had asked his customers what they wanted in terms of personal transport they would have said “faster horses”.
I love the level of change in my own industry: digital learning. It is what gets me out of bed in the morning.
However, others are at best bamboozled and at worst exhausted. Another new technology to get to grips with… Another new device to understand… Another new social media tool that is killing communication…
Given that – with the exception of a few visionaries like Ford – we can't predict (to any great effect) what the next big thing will be, how do we prepare people for (much) faster horses? How do we encourage employees to adopt new technology?
The first step is thinking about educating, guiding, and supporting colleagues and students to be resilient to change.
People need to gain confidence in exploration and discovery, to embrace, and even enjoy, change.
That brings three main benefits.
Curiosity, innovation and creative thinking
In ‘An MBA student’s toolkit for the smart machine age’, Ed Hess predicts that the Smart Machine Age will be as disruptive as the Industrial Revolution.
He suggests that in the future the most important core skills will be curiosity, innovation, and creative thinking:
“Smart can no longer be defined by how much one knows, because machines will always be able to know more…as technology continues to advance [employees will need to] learn iteratively…to define and solve problems and learn through trial and error.”
Staff need to learn how to explore technology rather than how to undertake specific tasks using specific technologies.
If they gain confidence in exploration, and organisations reward experimentation, businesses will be better prepared for the inevitable technological changes ahead.
Embracing change by bouncing forward
If change is a constant, organisational success could depend on how employees react to and embrace that change.
In ‘Changing how people feel about change’, Casey Mulqueen suggests that by developing the resilience of staff, employers will ensure that staff will not only bounce back but bounce forward too.
When staff resist necessary change it can cause significant disruption to business. L&D professionals need to support staff to become more resilient, confident and knowledgeable about technological change.
Our greatest gift to our staff may not be knowledge, but mindset.
This will help set the agenda for its use and is much more likely to embrace (even drive) change.
More resilient employees
Whilst always-on technology has been a great business enabler, it has made it difficult for some to switch off. If staff can never have downtime, their performance will ultimately suffer.
In a feature for Harvard Business Review, Rich Fernandez reported that a quarter of all employees view their jobs as the number one stress in their lives.
He suggests that this is due to increasing complexity, technological disruption, and the intense hyper connected culture of modern workplaces.
His solution? Help employees to build resilience.
All in the mindset
Technology has the ability to transform the workplace, but few of us have the ability to predict what that transformation will look like. To ensure that businesses can react quickly when customers no longer want faster horses, those responsible for education and development should take some time to re-think their programmes.
The focus has to be on ensuring that employees have the resilience, courage, and confidence to technology today, and to set the agenda for its use in the future.
Our greatest gift to our staff may not be knowledge, but mindset. Adaptability and resilience will take individuals, and their organisations, further.
Want to know more about future-proofing your training programme? Read Technology for trainers: tailored learning solutions.
About Nicola Scull
Nicola Scull is Head of Digital Learning and Libraries at The London Institute of Banking & Finance, where she oversees the integration of technology and learning. She has over twenty years experience in libraries, learning technologies and course design across the business, charity and education sectors. Additionally, Nicola undertakes pedagogical, information literacy and digital capability teaching and coaching for students and staff.