“It’s the people, stupid”

Two people making a heart with their hands

In a previous post on innovation labs, I said I’d return to the People issues in typical ‘lab’ implementations. The concern that “we don’t have the right digital skills” can lead companies to embark on large waves of external recruitment. Now of course there’s a time and a place for bringing in different perspectives and a sense of the art of the possible. However, when this influx of new people is too large, it dilutes the culture and creates a disconnect with how an organisation operates. That makes you less effective, not more. And if Peter Drucker didn’t say “culture eats strategy for breakfast” he should have done. This approach is shortsighted, and unnecessary, for two reasons.

The first is that technologies become more accessible, not less, with each passing year. But you don’t have to take my word for it. At the recent GCP Next 2016 keynote, Eric Schmidt of Google talked about the continuing journey of ‘abstraction’ that goes on in the technology industry. In summary, abstraction makes things easier to learn not harder, as anyone who has worked with machine code will tell you. So all of your current employees who learnt their technical skills the hard way, will have no difficulty picking up the new way. That is, as long as they want to, and you support them in doing it. In a recent conversation with an industry expert, she assessed that the time for an experienced developer to pick up a new language was now down to one week. Of course, it’s not only technical skills that you need. But the same abstraction benefits exist for the other areas of your business, and a good grasp of the consumer side of technology is a great platform on which to build product management and user experience skills.

The second reason though is more critical. It takes far longer to build a high performing culture than to learn new skills. So if your current employees already have a strong alignment to your goals and values, your transformation journey will be shorter if you address their skills gap, rather than bringing in new skills and then trying to address the cultural gaps. Your ideal employees, from a cultural perspective, are the ones who already get it.

The great news is that companies themselves seem to be learning this lesson. I was working recently with an executive team at a large company about to embark on a digital transformation. One of their first priorities was to create was a Digital Academy to re-skill their existing employees. In a market where it’s increasingly hard to hire digital talent, it’s a great idea to create your own.



“It’s the people, stupid”

Rob works with technology start ups and leading retailers on the impact and opportunities of digital technologies

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