“Computers are useless. They can only give you answers.” Pablo Picasso spoke these words in 1964, a time when the computer was barely more than a large machine, but his words still ring true today. Technology is only as powerful as the humans adopting and applying it.

We leverage technology to optimize every part of our businesses and operations today. Digital technologies create the possibility for efficiency gains and strong customer engagement. Organizations use many tools to automate and connect and thus become more efficient, including customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning, dashboards, etc. However, limited digital capabilities of the workforce often result in technology only being partially utilized. It’s not just about usage of digital tools; people must be digitally skilled enough to be able to comprehend the vision behind digital initiatives, understand their positive impact, and execute to it to realize the gains.

In order to truly transform to a digital enterprise, people within the business must adopt a digital-first mindset. A mindset where one instinctively looks for digital solutions first for any opportunity or challenge. A mindset with which one works through technology rather than aided by technology. A mindset that leads one to explore, adapt, and apply new tech. Such a mindset leads to speedier operations where employees often collaborate with others and act in real time rather than wait for action either due to sequential workflows or traditional communication methods. It helps drive higher engagement and transparency, facilitates collaboration, and increases data-driven decision making. It incorporates innovative technologies into business processes. It leads to a digital way of working.

The top companies understood this quite early, and despite being considered leaders of the technology industry, continue to invest in digitally upskilling their workforce.

Strategies to Develop a Digital-First Workforce

Many of the world’s top companies have all come to the same conclusion: the future of work is rapidly changing, uncertain at best, daunting and unmanageable at worst. Many workers believe they either lack the specific skills needed to fulfill their current roles or do not have the means to obtain the training needed to make them viable candidates in the future.

As such, ever since the first industrial revolution in the 18th century, technology has always necessitated acquiring newer skills. What’s different this time? What makes these companies continuously invest in the digital upskilling of their employees? They realize that the magnitude of reskilling that is required now is enormous. Moreover, the new technology cycles are increasingly getting shorter, necessitating more frequent skill refreshment to keep up and stay relevant in this rapidly changing digital environment. The advent and adoption of artificial intelligence, machine learning, the Internet of Things, robotics, and automation is impacting every job in every sector. It is nearly impossible to predict the nature of future jobs due to rapid evolution. It is best that companies prepare their workforce for the future of work by priming their employees to develop the right mindset for continual technical upskilling.

So how do you develop a digitally skilled workforce? We all know simple technology training can only go so far; it seldom leads to a lasting change in people’s way of working. The following steps can help achieve exactly that:

1. Develop the imperative and motivation for reskilling

While employees are generally well aware of digital changes taking place in an organization, the traditional way of working ensures that employees wait for IT department to drive the change through systems and associated training rather than proactively learn themselves. Most employees do not realize the power they have to amplify the gains from digital technologies many times over with an increase in digital acumen. The workforce needs to see that the digital disruption is creating a burning platform, which is equally as applicable to their jobs and to their skills as it is to their industry and their organizations. Since the year 2000, 52 percent of Fortune 500 companies have either gone bankrupt or have been acquired, essentially ceasing to exist. Those that continue to thrive are digitally native companies, or the companies that have successfully adopted digital like those indicated earlier in the article. Employees need to realize that proactivity in reskilling is a prerequisite to staying afloat in an ever-changing market.

2. Focus on the mindset, which is formed with experience and not just knowledge

A digital mindset is one with which you instinctively look for a digital solution to any problem first. To develop this, we must rewire brains to think differently than years in the traditional world have taught us. This rewiring can organically happen over many years by conscious effort, or it can be accelerated by simulating various digital workplace experiences in immersive learning worlds. Such an experiential learning approach enables the subjects to learn, practice, and exercise the digital-first mindset and behavior.

3. Develop a continuous and effortless learning rhythm

Technology will continue to evolve at an increasingly rapid pace and it is important that employees fall into a regular rhythm of learning. The ability to unlearn and relearn should almost become second nature, almost as seamless as it is for the current high school generation.

4. Maintain the focus on core technology

Mindset is extremely important, but let us keep our eyes on the prize. There is no digital without technology. The foundation must be laid out by a strong focus on usage of technology, so that employees can seamlessly use digital workplace tools to do their job. They should be able to work through technology to collaborate, communicate, search for and create content, and apply information and data to be efficient in their jobs.

5. Set the ecosystem to develop a digital culture and a digital way of working

Culture is formed with everyday practices, and everyday practices in turn are set through leadership’s behaviors. Company leaders should institutionalize methodologies and processes like design thinking, agile way of working and data-driven decision making which help form new work habits in the organization, thus leading to a digital way of working.

Existing employees of a company are best positioned to drive transformation within it, as they understand the company intrinsically; they already know its strategy, purpose, strengths, and weaknesses. Arming them with an understanding of the technologies the transformations hope to leverage and helping them adopt a digital-first mindset is the best shot any organization has at staying competitive. These experienced employees, with plenty of institutional knowledge, once upskilled and supported till they become unconsciously skilled digitally, can position the organization to win in a continuously evolving digital era.


Rajesh Makhija WAM12 is the founder & CEO of GoGestalt, a revolutionary digital workforce development company, and is an executive director at McorpCX, a top customer experience strategy, services and solutions company. Previously, he was the CEO of Mphasis Wyde and Eldorado, both Blackstone Group companies.