Digital Skills Gap

Do you start small or scale fast? Merge small AND scale to drive value

21 June 2024 • 6 min read


The widening digital skills gap continues to put pressure on business leaders, who are feeling increasingly out of step with the skills needed to accelerate value in their organisation. This also extends to the capabilities they’re looking to build amongst their people and teams, and there’s a palpable sense that a lack of digital skills is inhibiting growth.

This is evidenced by our research, where a third (34%) of senior leaders admitted to not having the technical/digital knowledge to lead their company into its next phase of growth - highlighting a clear need for upskilling, and a potential tendency to rely on third-parties to scale their ambitions at pace.

Interestingly, a sizable number (68%) of CEOs prefer to develop their in-house expertise for technological innovation rather than depend on external partners, prioritising starting small and building the long-term capabilities for sustained value creation.

This raises the question, is it better to start small and build your own capabilities for the long-term? Or partner with others to scale your ambitions quickly, but risk your independence and end up creating unforeseen dependencies? Read on to learn more about shifting to an AND not or mindset, and finding a way forward that blends small AND scale to accelerate value.


The shift to an AND not OR mindset


How to scale your skills and technology approach, if you’re currently thinking small


Starting small makes a lot of sense when it comes to building digital skills, but it can easily lead to problems with pace and velocity. It’s easy to lose ground to competitors if your efforts are focused solely on upskilling your own people and building your internal capabilities gradually over time. While the goal is a worthy one, here’s our critical success factors to ensure you scale your capabilities quickly without ceding undue control to third-parties, and losing your ability to innovate for yourself:


  1. Consider how you can attract the best talent, and the skills you anticipate needing in the future? This might involve developing a clear employer value proposition that will help you stand out as a great place to work.

  2. Think about what you can do as an employer to motivate your people to keep learning about new technologies, both formally and informally. This could involve creating a mechanism where they’re given protected time - outside of their day-to-day role - to focus on building skills that will benefit both themselves and the wider business.

  3. Take the time to think through how you’re managing and developing your technology talent to ensure you have the right people in the right roles to support your technology needs? Do you have key capability gaps that you need to hire for urgently? Could you be using mentoring, coaching or secondments to develop critical skills within your existing teams?

  4. Ask yourself whether you have a meaningful talent strategy in place. For instance, how is automation going to affect your workforce? Do you have a plan for reskilling at pace? Where are you going to find the skills you need to successfully capture digital opportunities?

  5. Define who is ultimately responsible for your organisation’s digital success and ensure you have the right leadership in place. Digital success requires multi-talented leaders — those who can transform the core business while spinning up new digital revenue streams. If your leadership needs to build some of those skills, what’s your plan to enable that?

  6. If you’re currently working with technology and/or delivery partners there’s also pertinent questions you should be asking of them, some great examples include:
  • How will they help you become independent post-project - enabling you to manage and maintain products? 
  • How do they measure their return on technology spending?
  • How do they ensure that the digital solutions they provide are flexible and adaptable to accommodate future growth and changes in business needs?
  • Do they provide scalable training programs to quickly upskill employees?
  • Can they deliver tailored solutions that start small and scale as needed?


How to bring the best of a smaller, more Agile approach to skills and technology, if you’re thinking at scale


If you’re already thinking at scale, then you’re probably used to outsourcing lots of critical skills and technology questions to your network of partners. That’s great for delivering value quickly in the short term, but it also creates a very real risk that you’re constraining your capacity to innovate, pivot, and create meaningful value for your business in the long run. Here are some key points to consider, so you can bring a smaller, more Agile, and sustainable approach to your skills development:

  1. Think about how you can adopt a more Agile mindset across your entire organisation? Realising the benefits of failing fast, learning together, and delivering value quickly in smaller increments.
  2. Consider how different teams within your business are collaborating and coordinating with each other. Are there points of friction or is the adoption of new skills and technology a smooth one?
  3. Does the organisation, overall, have the right governance structure around its digital activities? If not, should your board have a tech, data, or cyber subcommittee to support your growth? 
  4. Reflect on how you can broaden your talent acquisition strategies to support growth and scalability, reducing your dependence on others.
  5. Think carefully about what processes or systems you should put in place to monitor and manage challenges related to increasing complexity, potential resource constraints, and anticipated cultural shifts as a result of sustained organisational growth.
  6. Again, if you’re working with technology and/or delivery partners, here’s what you should be asking them:
What is their development approach like? Do they champion Agile ways of working and promote the formation of multi-disciplinary, cross-functional teams?
  • Do they regularly identify small incremental changes that can deliver an immediate impact? If so, are they focused on delivering these rather than large, complex projects?
  • Are they properly equipped to support large-scale digital initiatives? Can they onboard new people with diverse skill sets and experience quickly as your work together evolves?
  • What measures are they putting in place to ensure data security, privacy, and compliance as you expand your operations and customer base?


Ready to accelerate value now? Embrace the juxtaposition of small AND scale


CEOs - and by extension people across your organisation - need a profound shift in mindset, to look for the AND rather than the OR when it comes to embracing new technology. To unlock true value quickly from your technology investments you have to embrace the inherently juxtaposed concepts of small AND scale. This can sound daunting but here are some proven approaches to set you up for success:


4 acceleration approaches to balance small AND scale in technology:


  1. Fill your critical skills gaps first - focus on filling the gaps you have around critical digital skills, then build your teams around these individuals. If you work with partners, ask them whether they can help you plug key point roles in order to accelerate value creation.

  2. Onboard and integrate at pace - take the time to develop a robust onboarding process, or find a partner who can help you do so. Integrated, cohesive teams are best placed to deliver value quickly. 

  3. Co-locate to collaborate - remote working brings many advantages but ensuring your teams, and those of your partners have the space to collaborate in person on a regular basis facilitates the sharing of skills and ideas that may not be possible otherwise.

  4. Prioritise knowledge transfer to upskill sustainably - dedicated upskilling and learning time is fantastic, but carving out time from day-to-day job roles can be really challenging. It’s wise to create an environment where colleagues are empowered to share their knowledge with others and are rewarded for doing so. Thereby creating an environment where upskilling becomes an everyday activity not just a one-off.


Digital Skills Gap

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