Five ways to train your organisation to be digital disruption-ready

If you want your business to thrive well into the future, you need to be able to respond to digital disruptions. Here are five ways you can be prepared.

In 2005, Nokia was one of the world’s most valuable brands. By 2014, Microsoft had finalised its acquisition of Nokia’s handset business. An emotional Stephen Elop, Nokia’s then-chief executive officer, had this to say, “We didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost.”

Many factors led to Nokia’s demise, but its inability to respond to digital disruptions was foremost among them. After the advent of the iPhone in 2007 and the Samsung smartphone two years later, Nokia found itself gasping for air like a fish out of water.

A survey of the best HR blogs and people management thought leadership publications would tell you that a business organisation can only be truly prepared for a digital disruption when its people are.

Digital disruption involves reshaping the business landscape, driving innovation and changing how companies interact with their customers, employees and partners. 

To remain competitive, businesses must adapt and embrace digital transformation.

When the touchscreen, app-driven smartphone era ushered in by iPhone started, Nokia’s people were unprepared and ill-equipped for the change. They were too busy churning out phones to meet high demand volumes. 

As one analyst put it, Nokia’s leadership got “operationally obsessed”; that is, so lost in the operational details that they neglected to change.

And Nokia was not the only one that couldn’t cope with the rapid pace of tech development. Barnes & Noble, Kodak, Myspace, Toys R Us, Blockbuster — the business landscape is full of remnants of businesses ruined by digital disruptions in their respective industries.

Five ways to train your organisation to be digital disruption-ready

It is clear that significant technological developments can break an organisation, no matter how established that organisation seems. However, disruption doesn’t necessarily have to lead to ruin. If a company can equip its people so that its human resources can pivot accordingly, the organisation will not only survive but even thrive.

Read on to learn about five practical ways businesses can train their organisation to be ready for digital disruption.

1) Cultivate a culture of innovation

Nokia failed to innovate, surfing complacently on the wave of its initial successes. Ironically, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Nokia had a smartphone (with a touchscreen and internet-enabled) prototype by the mid-1990s. Yes, Nokia knew and predicted that the smartphone era was coming, but it did nothing about it.

Even when Nokia foresaw a time when mobile phones would be internet enabled and have touchscreens, it lacked the foresight to see how significant a disruption it would be to its feature phones business. 

After the iPhone’s release, Nokia still refused to acknowledge its loyal customers could be so easily won over by a phone that could do more than just make calls and send text messages.

Nokia was also obsessed with hardware improvements. It wouldn’t improve its clunky operating system; it completely overlooked the importance of innovating on software. It was a mistake, as it’s obvious now how software and applications create an ecosystem that adds value to today’s smartphones.

Nokia’s lack of a culture of innovation was one of the primary reasons for its downfall. It was a pity. After all, ínnovation was in its genes. Even its mobile phone business was a pivot from its original business model. Note: Nokia was once a paper mill.

Indeed, fostering a culture of innovation is one of the most crucial steps when preparing an organisation for digital disruption. An organisation’s people must feel free to explore, experiment and take risks. When employees feel safe to do these things, great things can happen.

To this end, one should encourage employees to be creative, willing to experiment and open to learning from failures. Organisations should create an environment that allows people to freely communicate, collaborate, protest, and take risks.

Management should also lead by example, demonstrating their commitment to innovation and change. There should be operational performance metrics; however, there should also be key performance indicators that pertain to innovative thinking and planning.

A practical way to operationalise this is by setting up innovation labs or dedicated teams focused on exploring new technologies and business models. These teams can work on pilot projects, analyse market trends and engage with external partners, such as startups or academic institutions, to drive innovation.

An organisation must also normalise implementing proposed innovations instead of leaving them as fun side-projects to showcase in press releases and company newsletters.

2) Invest in digital literacy

Employees at all levels of the organisation must possess a basic understanding of digital technologies and their potential impact on the business. Investing in digital literacy programs can help ensure employees are prepared to navigate the ever-changing digital landscape.

Digital literacy training should cover a broad range of topics, including cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, data analytics, and cybersecurity. This training can take the form of online courses, workshops, seminars, or even hands-on experiential learning programs.

Digital tech training will not only improve an organisation’s digital competence. It may also spark interest and inspiration among employees, which can then lead to business process improvements and maybe even business process reengineering.

3) Embrace agile methodologies

Scrum, Kanban and other agile methodologies can help organisations respond more effectively to digital disruption by fostering collaboration, flexibility and rapid iteration. Implementing agile methods across an organisation can enable teams to adapt quickly to changing market conditions, customer needs and technological advancements.

If Nokia weren’t so set in its ways, if it were more responsive, flexible and agile, it would have been able to make something out of its touchscreen, internet-enabled phone prototype. It would have also been able to create the software to power them.

Training employees in agile principles and practices is essential for success. Provide resources, such as workshops or e-learning courses, to help employees understand the benefits of agile methodologies and learn how to apply them in their daily work.

4) Leverage data

Nokia was confident its superior hardware would foil any attempts at market share incursion by Apple and Samsung. It was dead wrong, and perhaps, if it looked at the data instead of trusting in its market dominance, it might have realised this and taken remedial action much sooner.

Data-driven decision-making is essential for a business to stay ahead in the digital age. Organisations must invest in data analytics tools and training to empower employees to make informed decisions based on data.

Training programs should cover data analysis techniques, data visualisation and the use of advanced analytics tools, such as AI and machine learning algorithms. Businesses must encourage employees to use data to identify trends, make predictions and optimise business processes.

5) Implement continuous learning programs

Continuous learning is crucial for organisations to stay current with the latest digital technologies and best practices. Businesses must implement learning programs encouraging employees to develop new skills, stay informed about industry trends, and adapt to the ever-evolving digital landscape.

These programs can take various forms, such as online learning platforms, in-house training sessions, mentorship programs, or access to industry conferences and events. Continuous learning can improve employee competencies, feed their curiosity and fuel their drive to innovate, equipping them with the skills, knowledge and the strategic and forward thinking necessary to thrive in the face of digital disruption.

Are you ready for digital disruption?

Digital disruption is an ongoing process that requires businesses to continually adapt and evolve. By cultivating a culture of innovation, investing in digital literacy, embracing agile methodologies, leveraging data, and implementing continuous learning programs, organisations can ensure they are prepared to navigate the challenges and opportunities of the digital age. 

In doing so, they will be much more able to seize competitive advantage and drive growth in an increasingly digital world.