Over the past four years, this blog has looked at the human side of the technology-driven transformation that is reshaping business operations. We’ve made the case for large scale, systematic capability-building efforts, arguing that companies won’t capture the benefits of new digital technologies if they don’t equip their people with the skills to use them effectively.
That idea is gaining momentum. In a McKinsey survey conducted in August 2020 of 1,240 business leaders around the world, nearly 80 percent of respondents characterized capability building as extremely or very important to the long-term growth of their companies, up from 59 percent before the COVID-19 pandemic. A few months later, 69 percent of respondents in another survey told us they were doing more capability today than before the crisis.
While recognizing the need for upskilling is one thing, designing and delivering an effective program is another. Not only must companies deliver training at an unprecedented scale, they must also ensure that each individual in the organization gains the right combination of skills. With dozens of roles and thousands of candidates, each with different needs, aptitudes, interests, and learning styles, Ops 4.0 capability building is a formidable task.
Successful companies are meeting this challenge by taking a “customer-back” perspective. Based on a clear understanding of the skills, behaviors, and mindsets the organization requires, these companies identify capability gaps and improvement opportunities across their workforce. Then, instead of offering “one size fits all” training, they design their capability programs based on detailed analysis of the needs of individual learners—while instilling a culture that fosters learning throughout the organization. That involves the application of a few powerful principles.
The T-shaped skills profile
For any given role, some skill requirements are universal. Every team member may need to be comfortable working with data, or solving problems in a structured way, for example. Beyond those basics, however, they will also want to develop a deeper understanding of topics that allow them to make a real difference in their job. That could be the application of machine learning to optimize a specific industrial process, or how to design in sustainability into products and services. The result is a T-shaped skills profile, with a broad set of generally applicable skills, supplemented by a spike of specific expertise (exhibit). An effective capability program must be able to deliver both sets of skills, and the business needs to keep track of where those spikes of specialist knowledge are within its workforce.
Learning on demand
People learn faster and remember more when the content seems relevant and directly applicable to their jobs. When the pandemic forced millions of staff to work from home last year, most quickly became adept at the use of remote collaboration tools. Successful capability-building programs allow staff to access training when they need it, for example through frequent scheduled courses, apps, or video-on-demand services.
Multiple delivery formats
With so much ground to cover, companies can’t rely on traditional classroom-based learning as their sole way of imparting new skills. Leading organizations are employing a mix of learning approaches. They offer self-service formats such as podcasts, videos (some mimicking popular viral-video formats), and e-learning modules; run instructor-led virtual sessions via webcast or video-conferencing platforms; and provide multiday intensive courses that involve both intensive learning and valuable network-building opportunities.
There’s a lot to do, but companies don’t need to do it all themselves. The strongest capability-building programs draw upon a range of resources, including brick-and-mortar academic institutions, specialist online universities, and commercial training providers. Supplemented by bespoke in-house content, these options can give an organization the building blocks it needs to create a unique classroom for every employee.