How to Boost Your Company’s Digital Expertise without Hiring

By: Keith Krach

Scan the titles of thought pieces on digital transformation from the past few years and you won’t have any trouble spotting the phrase “war for digital talent.” That’s because the pace at which technology is currently advancing far exceeds the pace at which workers with the necessary digital skills are entering the market, resulting in a talent gap that many business leaders have cited as one of the biggest roadblocks to effective digital transformation.

pcboardFor example, a recent article from Gartner cites the case of a CIO given six months to recruit 27 senior-level engineers—all positions considered high priority by the IT hiring managers, with nearly all of the positions requiring high-level specialization in a single technology or application. According to Gartner, not only will it be a significant challenge for the organization to find appropriate candidates for such a large number of positions at once, but the focus on single-purpose specialization will seriously limit the organization’s capacity to reconfigure staffing as business needs change or to scale quickly in the event of growth or decline of particular areas. In addition, keeping workers boxed in to just one specialty typically has the effect of inhibiting organizational innovation and stifling professional development, business elements that are vital in today’s dynamic digital landscape.

So what can organizations do to more effectively close the gap between the demand for digital expertise and the supply, particularly when external hiring isn’t likely to be successful, for a variety of reasons? Gartner recommends the bold approach of looking within rather than without. The following nine practices, as outlined by Gartner, can help organizations and CIOs find and encourage digital innovation and skill development already present in their existing workers, and build a company culture that fosters in-house digital expertise.

  1. Utilize competency frameworks.

Most organizations are already familiar with competency models and frameworks. But adding digital business capabilities to these frameworks can help companies get a clearer picture of their strengths, systemic shortfalls, typical behaviors, and organizational risks when it comes to digital expertise.

  1. Institutionalize communities of practice.

digital businessIn-house communities of practice are becoming more and more common as organizations realize the potential they have for building a social fabric that expands learning and sharing and balances out the effects of deep specialization. Communities of practice often develop organically and informally, but by institutionalizing them, CIOs can ensure that desired organizational principles and norms are playing a key role in shaping the work of these communities.

  1. Boost performance with personal technology.

Different workers will have different preferences when it comes to digital technology. By encouraging employees to assemble and work with their own personal tech toolkits (including things like multimedia, apps, data, blogs, and personal software), CIOs can be sure that their teams are working with the tools that resonate with them the most, therefore more likely leading to increased digital dexterity and improved performance.

  1. Introduce competition.

Competition is a well-known and much-used catalyst for innovation. Introducing competition into the working environment in the form of hackathons or other sprint-like design events can help companies unlock previously hidden digital potential in their workers and identify both new talent and qualified experts.

  1. Increase the versatility quotient.

Traditionally, companies have sought out specialists; now, the focus needs to be on seeking out “versatilists.” Just like character actors in a repertory theater company, these multi-faceted workers bring superior performance to a wide range of organizational roles. Encouraging existing employees to showcase their versatility will help organizations respond more quickly and flexibly to changing business needs.

  1. Use workforce analytics.

digital marketingThe days of using guesswork to make people decisions are over. Today, sophisticated workforce analytics can provide CIOs with a detailed and data driven portrait of their employees, contractors, and external experts and consultants, as well as broader labor market patterns. This can help improve the speed and accuracy of decision-making regarding staffing and deployment.

  1. Discover global expertise ecosystems.

Today, not only is it possible for organizations to boost their digital expertise without making permanent hires, it’s easy. Thanks to the expertise ecosystems that are accessible through a wide variety of global online platforms, companies that reach beyond the “usual suspects” are usually rewarded by the discovery of new innovators, experts, and ideas on the fringes of their traditional territory.

  1. Commit to organizational innovation.

In some cases, an organization’s lack of digital expertise does not reflect its people so much as its traditional attitude. But when organizations commit to experimenting with new and different techniques and ideas, employees feel empowered to contribute and grow outside of traditional reporting lines. The result is usually a richer pool of in-house talent and expertise that was developed using time and attention rather than money.

  1. Investigate the potential of AI.

Given the pace at which machine learning and AI are developing, it’s no longer a guarantee that an organization’s next hire will be a person. Many companies are increasing their digital expertise by “recruiting” smart algorithms, talent bots, and machines to balance out skills that are lacking in the rest of the workforce. According to Gartner’s predictions, this kind of “virtual talent” spending will exceed 10 percent of the costs of human staffing by 2030.