Digital Transformation Is About Talent, Not Technology

Credit:  Erik Dreyer/Getty Images

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Contrary to popular belief, digital transformation is less about technology and more about people. You can pretty much buy any technology, but your ability to adapt to an even more digital future depends on developing the next generation of skills, closing the gap between talent supply and demand, and future-proofing your own and others’ potential.

As it turns out, most of us end up in jobs and careers for serendipitous reasons, and stay in them for a long time, rarely pausing to rethink our potential: Am I in the right job? Is my career the best fit for by interests and abilities? Would I enjoy my life more if I had chosen something else? Furthermore, while every job requires learning, we are prewired for familiarity, routine, and simplicity, which is why most of us end up learning less on the job, the more time we actually spend on the job. This is good in the short run, because we can do our jobs on autopilot, freeing up mental resources; yet it’s counterproductive in the long run, because what we gain in experience, we miss in new learning opportunities.

An even bigger loss is that we may go through our entire working lives without discovering, let alone unlocking, our true potential. As Winston Churchill once said, we should never waste a good crisis. Perhaps this is the biggest gift of the current pandemic, that it provides us with the opportunity to rethink our potential and ensure that we are positioning ourselves toward the future. To be sure, it is too soon for most people to realize this, yet in the long-term, a significant number of people will likely end up in better careers and look back on their less meaningful and less engaging past careers like someone who looks back without regret on the end of a less fulfilling personal relationship, even one where it wasn’t their choice to exit.

With this in mind, we wanted to provide a few suggestions: some based on science, and some based on our own experiences leading, coaching, and mentoring current and future leaders across a wide range of industries, helping them ready themselves for an even-more-digital future. Our main assumption here is straightforward: While the future is more ambivalent and uncertain than ever, we are confident that a pretty strong bet on the future is to focus on reskilling and upskilling people so that they are better equipped to adjust to change. Just as our past efforts have enabled us to adapt to our more digital and virtual present world (and a non-trivial fact is that we are writing this, and you are probably reading this, in physical isolation), there are few reasons to suggest that this trend will go away or be reversed anytime soon. If anything, an even bigger proportion of jobs, tasks, activities, and careers will find ingenious and novel ways to coexist in the digital world. Here’s how we can all prepare for that eventuality.

[Here are the first two suggestions.]

o Put people first: Technology is always about doing more with less, yet that combination is effective only if you pair technology with the right human skills. Just as technological disruption has generally led to automation and the elimination of outdated jobs, it has also always created new jobs. This is why innovation is commonly described as creative destruction. But the creative aspect of innovation is entirely dependent on people. If we can leverage human adaptability to reskill and upskill our workforce, then we can simultaneously augment humans and technology. It’s really quite simple: the most brilliant innovation is irrelevant if we are not skilled enough to use it, and even the most impressive human minds will become less useful if they don’t team up with tech. The main implication is that when leaders think about investing in technology, they should first think about investing in the people who can make that technology useful.

o Focus on soft skills: Just as digital transformation is more about people rather than technology, the key technological skills are soft skills rather than hard skills. Sure, the recruitment market is hot for cybersecurity analysts, software engineers, and data scientists. But as we recently argued in our article, “Does Higher Education Still Prepare People for Jobs?”, there’s an even bigger need for people who can be trained in the next wave of IT skills. Paradoxically, higher education is always playing catch up, because where universities perceive employer demand, they follow up with relevant courses and learning programs, creating a future surplus of talent supply in those areas.

In our view, the best way to make your organization more data-centric and digital is to selectively invest in those who are most adaptable, curious, and flexible in the first place. Since nobody knows what the key future hard skills will be, the best action is to bet on the people who are most likely to develop them. Our own talent development philosophy is to combine this dual focus on potential for soft skills, and knowledge for hard skills: we select people with high learnability (people with a hungry mind) and match their interests to in-demand skills, while understanding that those hard skills may soon become outdated — so the key is that their curiosity remains intact. Technical competence is temporary, but intellectual curiosity must be permanent.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Becky Frankiewicz is President of ManpowerGroup North America and a labor market expert. Before joining ManpowerGroup, she led one of PepsiCo’s largest subsidiaries, Quaker Foods North America, and was named by Fast Company as one of the most creative people in the industry. Find her on Twitter: @beckyfrankly.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is the Chief Innovation Officer at ManpowerGroup, a professor of business psychology at University College London and at Columbia University, co-founder of, and an associate at Harvard’s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab. He is the author of Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (and How to Fix It), upon which his TEDx talk was based. His latest book is I, Human: AI, Automation, and the Quest to Reclaim What Makes Us Unique. Find him at

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