Rethinking talent in the digital age

Let’s face it. We are all thinking it. With record-high retail store and high street bank closures, and predictions of robots driving our cars and taking our jobs – what does the future hold for our careers and those of our children?


With 31% of organisations saying Artificial Intelligence (AI)* is firmly on the agenda for the next 12 months, what once seemed like only part of a fictional movie is very much becoming a reality.

Robotics and AI will no doubt transform the workforce, but are we ready? After all, “recruiting, developing, motivating, and retaining highly skilled, talented people is the single biggest barrier to CIO success” (Forbes, Jan 2017). According to the British Chamber of Commerce 2017 study, three in four UK businesses have reported a digital skills shortage among their employees.

What impact will the digital age** have on our search for talent? How can leaders identify the skills they need in the future and how can they ensure their organisation can adapt to the changing digital landscape? This blog explores the steps leaders can take, today, to bring their talent strategies in line with the digital age.

Rethinking skills in the digital age 

The digital age promises expansion through widespread, rapid and radical change to the nature of work. Automation will have a huge impact on the global workforce: by 2030 an estimated 50% of current activities will be automatable, and 6 of 10 current occupations have technically automatable activities. Work, and workers, will be displaced, meaning millions of people worldwide may need to change jobs, re-train or upskill. At the same time, AI and Machine Learning are also creating jobs elsewhere. AI alone is an emerging field that is expected to create 2.8 million jobs by 2020.

The skills organisations need for the future are changing, with a greater focus on innovation and creativity. With the rise of AI leading to quicker gains, people are freed up to focus on creating innovative products and solutions. According to the 2018 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends survey human skills, such as cognitive abilities (55%) and social skills (52%), are predicted to be in tremendous future demand. This change in the skillset needed by businesses is creating a key challenge for leaders today with 73% of CEOs saying they see skills shortage as a threat to their business, compared with 46% just six years ago.

To address this challenge, leaders should be developing hiring strategies long before the skills gap becomes an issue. First leaders need to consider the skills and capabilities required to execute their strategy in the digital world. Comparing these requirements to their current employee skill base, will enable them to develop a workforce plan and robust talent strategy, defining when to buy, build or borrow skills and how to create an enabling culture. What do employees need to do differently to adapt to a digital culture?

Rethinking sources of talent in the digital age

The advent of a digital economy has enabled a rapid transformation of the shape of the workforce: the gig economy*** and rise of freelance means that traditional models of employment are changing. The notion of lifelong careers and full-time jobs are no longer the norm. In many ways, it has never been easier to go it alone. Geographical boundaries are being eroded as more and more tasks can be completed remotely, with many businesses able to move to 24/7 operations by taking advantage of a diverse workforce bringing not only additional flexibility in operating hours but greater diversity of thought.

With millennials soon to represent half of the workforce, organisations need to rethink the way in which they source talent. According to a recent study by Future Workplace study 91% of millennials expect to stay in a job for less than three years. The rise of the gig economy presents a number of challenges for leaders from adapting recruitment and onboarding processes, exploring internal mobility programmes to energising and engaging freelance talent and preserving an existing culture with a constantly changing workforce.

Leaders need to set themselves up to be able to flex the shape and size of their organisation with changing demand, sourcing skills from the freelance labour market and gig economy as needed. Some of the key activities leaders can begin to implement today include developing a flexible operating model, adapting sourcing and hiring processes to prepare to recruit from a wider range of sources, and mapping out a clear plan for taking advantage of new sources of labour. How will organisations assess and recruit candidates from a new area of skills they currently don’t have?

Rethinking managing and leading talent in the digital age

As the digital economy evolves we can be sure that there will be continuing focus on managing the impact on people, both within organisations, and on a wider economic level. As organisations move to more agile flatter hierarchies, engagement and motivation of the workforce is key with a focus on the employee experience. Leaders and managers should move away from traditional end-of-year appraisals and provide constant real-time feedback alongside creating an environment of continual development, where people can move fluidly internally and externally. The question is no longer about who do you work for but with whom do you work.

Leadership continues to play a critical role in developing a culture in which innovation can thrive, both through direction with the “tone from the top” articulating a compelling digital narrative and also through modelling the desired behaviours and actions. But what are the characteristics leaders need to excel in the digital age? It is clear that leading through change requires a very different skillset and as a result we are seeing a significant shift away from traditional command and control leadership styles. When it comes to predicting leadership effectiveness a recent study shows that personality traits such as curiosity, extraversion, and emotional stability are twice as important as IQ, indicating that inherent traits may prove more important than learned skills.

Leadership teams should look at whether they are truly aligned on their vision of the future and this may result in hard decisions about whether the right individuals are in place to continue to lead the business. Any leadership team needs a mix of skills and styles but they all have one thing in common and that is the need to constantly evolve, developing new skills and never settling for complacency. It is also imperative to create an environment for middle management to speak up and for leaders listen to the “tone from the middle” and act on it. Are leaders ready to let go of their empires and direct from the sidelines?


Even though we are starting to predict what the future of work might look like, and understand how digital and AI will shape the workforce moving forward, there is still a great deal of ambiguity in any vision of the future workplace. This is mainly due to the exponential speed of technology development. We therefore need to feel “comfortable with being uncomfortable” when it comes to how our jobs (and those of our children’s) will look like in the future and embrace this as a positive change.

To survive and thrive in the new digital age, companies must first and foremost focus on defining the skills and capabilities required to drive their vision, underpinned by a robust talent strategy and enabling culture, driven by an effective leadership.


*Artificial Intelligence (AI) falls under the “digital umbrella”, as a branch of computer science that aims to create systems that can function intelligently and independently

**Digital age: the current era of technology, characterised by automation, mobile, cloud-computing, big data analytics, social media

*** Gig Economy can be defined as an environment wherein temporary positions are common and organizations engage independent workers on short-term contracts


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