How to hire for digital disruption: What skills should you look for?

Digital disruption is an inevitability in modern business. Those who are succeeding welcome disruption. They respond to it. They adapt to it. They innovate to lead the charge into the next disruptive moment.

Disruption is, however, a challenge – especially when it comes to ensuring that your workforce can meet the needs of a disruptive future. Many analysts and researchers are speculating on what the next key disruptive technologies might be.

But what skills should CMOs be looking for when hiring staff to use these technologies and those that follow? Or is it less about specific skills and more about worldview and the enthusiasm to learn?

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.

Data skills

In a recent article by Forbes, Gil Press points to what he considers some of the key technologies of digital disruption over the next few years. These include artificial intelligence (AI) and intelligent agents (such as chatbots), as well as the internet of things (IoT).

Data and how it is analyzed and processed is a massive part of these prospective disruptions. AI improves depending on the size of the data set it has to learn from. Intelligent agents such as Siri and Alexa are increasingly tailoring their suggestions and processes dependent on the habits of the consumers they serve. Additionally, IoT devices such as refrigerators which know your shopping habits are responding to the data they have about you.

It comes as no surprise that employees who have an understanding of data analysis, processing and implementation will be of increasing value to businesses in the wake of these emerging technologies. One study predicted that the demand for data analysts and big data skills is set to create over 300,000 jobs by 2020.

But it goes beyond that. Employees working in increasingly data-centric workplaces will need to know about the ethics and responsibilities of handling more customer data. As proposed in a recent piece by Computer Business Review, Alexander Sword expects data protection officers to be a key staff role in future IT organisations. I think we can expect similar roles to emerge elsewhere.

Customer-centricity

Press’ prospective digital disruptors are highly customer-orientated. Chris Camps looks at this in his study of digital disruption among CPGs for ClickZ where he expects consumers to have increasing digital expectations of even the most traditional offline interactions – with e-groceries being a particular sector to watch.

AI and intelligent agents offer the potential for quicker, more efficient interactions for consumers. The IoT promises customers a degree of liberation from mundane tasks like buying milk or washing powder, or changing the central heating settings in the home. Augmented reality is increasingly expected to assist users with buying choices.

With this in mind, we can expect employees who acknowledge how central the needs and expectations of customers are to be a valuable asset – as well as understanding how these consumers want to engage and interact with the brand.

The key disruptors that Press notes point to a future of increasingly comprehensive understandings of consumers and their needs. The best employees will have a modern view of the diversity of contemporary consumers. Additionally, those who are observant (and responsive to the supporting data) of how consumer expectations change are likely to be a big help to companies in the age of digital disruption.

Stock image of a person using a holographic digital interface.

Attitude and personality

The importance of employees with a keen understanding of data and the evolving expectations of customers is quite clear. But there is evidence that businesses are beginning to put less weight on hard skills and qualifications, and instead are looking for employees with the a particular outlook and attitude.

The gap in digital skills, which is particularly prevalent in the UK, has put pressure on businesses to hire for behavior and attitude over digital skills – with many choosing to train inexperienced employees rather than hire experienced ones.

Prospective employees who can demonstrate agility, and being able to adapt and respond, are likely to appeal to managers.

While I agree with Press that key digital disruption will likely include AI and IoT etc., much of what makes hiring staff difficult currently is the unpredictability of such disruptive technologies. They can emerge quickly, and those who have the wherewithal to transfer their skills to other areas, and who are enthusiastic to learn, are arguably as valuable as those who may have in-depth knowledge of certain technologies but have had less experience of changing business priorities.

What does this mean for CMOs?

Hiring staff with the intention of investing in their training and learning in the face of digital disruption is only really feasible if the strategies are in place for the training and learning to happen.

In research published by Accenture, a majority of employees say they are proactively learning new digital and technical skills as well as being aware of how such skills will improve their job prospects. There is certainly a degree of enthusiasm for workers to want to embark on in-work training schemes – especially when it comes to digital technologies.

In light of digital disruption as predicted by Press, we can anticipate employees with data skills, customer skills and a demonstrated enthusiasm to learn to be appealing to employers.

But organizations also have an increasing responsibility to ensure their staff can advance within the business, both to be better prepared for such disruption and to improve the working lives of those in the organization. After all, digital disruption may be an inevitability, but so too is the possibility that competitors can offer enthusiastic, agile staff-members a better working opportunity elsewhere.

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