Digital still needs plenty of human intervention: Where are your self starters?

Digital talent development comes as companies fight to adapt and survive in today’s digital era. According to a joint research report by Capgemini and LinkedIn in 2017, the digital talent gap is widening with 54% of the 1,250 individuals surveyed agreeing that the gap is hampering their digital transformation programmes, and that their organisation has lost competitive advantage because of the shortage of digital talent. Also, 59% of employers surveyed said that their companies lack individuals who possess soft digital skills such as customer centricity and passion for learning than hard digital skills (51%) such as cybersecurity and cloud computing.

On the local front, Axiata Group and OCBC Bank are among the few companies that have invested millions in digital skills programme to upskill their employees. While such training programmes are undoubtedly useful to employees, individuals who will eventually become successful in future are those who are inherently curious and are self-starters.

During A+M’s recent Digital Marketing Asia 2019 conference in Malaysia, Suresh Balaji (pictured centre), regional head of marketing, Asia Pacific, HSBC Retail Banking and Wealth Management Global Head of Marketing, HSBC Insurance said the company conducts trainings for employees with external partners such as Google, Facebook and even its media agency PHD to help teams understand and learn. Despite this, he said that employees within his team who are able to take the lead are usually self-starters. They are inherently curious and are always keen to learn and explore, and find out how the knowledge can value add to them.

“There is no global institution or industry that can set up training programmes, have everybody go through them, give them a diploma and say they are ready. The answer is in most people’s hands. The people who are able to think through and learn are those who will stay ahead,” he explained.

Balaji said:

Digital still needs plenty of human intervention and the world is not being taken over by chatbots and AI.

According to him, true change is “many years away”. For example, to effectively fully deploy a martech stack from end-to-end, companies still need employees on the backend managing that. In this case, the jobs are changing but they will not vanish, Balaji said. The question is not whether you need human beings or not. The question will be what sort of employees and roles you will need. Is it still inherently manual?

Agreeing with Balaji is, Garry Chua (pictured second from left), president, Malaysia Retail Chain Association who said “it’s not going to be a zero sum game”. With digital, Chua said there will be a lot of new opportunities and new supply chains. He reckons that in future, people will have to be remobilsed based on their skills, to whichever areas they think they can adapt to better.

He added that besides employees being adaptable and having an open mind about digital, companies also need to engage with the digital partners. For example, Chua said that companies such as Alibaba in China work with the right partners to provide them with the relevant information to do the right training for staff members and help them upskill accordingly.

Fear of change

A study by Harvard Business Review done in 1998 cited three big issues with talent and digital moving forward – people who are unsure about what they needed to learn; the management being unsure about innovation; and the lack of critical skills thinking, Vijayaratnam Tharumartnam (pictured right), PROTON’s director, group corporate communications said. He added that these challenges still exist today.

According to him, these points are still relevant in today’s world and he is of the view that the industry has merely used digital as an excuse to make up for the fear of change. Using PROTON as an example, he said that the levers of change, unfortunately, sits in the wrong hands, i.e. “the hands of angry old man who have held on to the levers of power for a long time”. As such, while there has been significant improvements on shop fronts in the automotive industry, the backend systems and sales distribution channels have not changed.

While we can try to think about it as a digital problem, it’s not. It’s really just change.

Meanwhile, Tai Kam Leong (pictured second from right), head of brand and marketing at Maxis said it is a great time to be a manager right now. He is of the view that now more than ever, employees are proactively offering to educate themselves to upskill in a particular direction. In return, the goal for managers is to only ask that the companies will get something in return upon investing in employees who want to upskill themselves.

“You are no longer the purveyor of strategy or methods. In fact, it works in your favour if you allow the people you work with to find their own means to the ends that you set. Your only goal is to be as clear and as rigorous as possible with the outcome you want. I think as long as you set that, there is a chance that upskilling will happen organically,” Tai explained.

He added that Maxis has allowed the youths to take over on their own accord in terms of executing projects. This is done by allowing the younger employees to create content that they are passionate about.

“The people who underestimate the ability to change actually aren’t those we think are the problem. It’s not the Millennials who are the problem, it’s the challenge that is in our head. They are more capable than we give them credit for and are ready to embrace this rate of change than we traditionally want,” Tai explained.

The thinking process outweighs technology

While allowing employees to have their own way and explore on their own will open up new paths that one would otherwise not have found. On the other hand, Tharumartnam said there exists another problem. According to him, the industry veterans have benefited from some form of structure and organisation, especially in the marketing communications side.

“You can say that’s old school but there is something to be said about rigour and discipline because it trains your mind to think. It’s not about the product or the technology but about the thinking skill,” he said.

While most look to technology to solve their problems or automate processes, he said that technology is not the solution but rather the last mile.

The thinking is where the real value is because that is where you will come up with the solution and the technology is the enabler.

While, the younger generation loves technology because it is quick and automated, Tharumartnam said they are unable to justify why they are doing it and what exactly they saved by using that particular technology.

“There is always going to be this flux but some effort needs to be made, especially in the marketing space, to bring back some first principles and force people to get through some processes,” he said.

Tharumartnam added that because individuals today are in a disruptive environment, there is not much time for such structures to form within organisations. He also said that while the younger generation is able to obtain information instanteously, it is working against them because their reliance on the Internet has caused them to be unable to figure out other ways to obtain information. This relates back to the thinking skill that the seniors in the industry have built up due to the structure and rigour they experienced back then.

“It’s a little bit unfair when they come in and ask how to do certain tasks. Back in our days, that would have been your ‘death certificate’. You would never even think about telling our boss you don’t know and asking how to solve it,” he said.

[Digital Marketing Asia Conference 2019 in Singapore is back! Join us on 8-9 October as we hear from experienced practitioners and thought-leaders on how they are managing complex digital transitions and reimagining new ways for their marketing to become more customer focused, agile and interactive. Check out the agenda and book your seats today.]

Read also:
Tackling tech talent shortage in SG: ‘Peel back the veneer and ask the right questions’
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