What Is Digital Dexterity and Why Is It Important?

Jon Hill
5 mins
woman in orange shirt at laptop improves her digital dexterity

For over a decade, organizations of all sizes have been plotting their digital transformation—officially doing away with outdated, legacy systems and processes in favor of new tech designed to maximize efficiency and effectiveness. Unfortunately, these big plans often fizzled outside the board room. Even when businesses invested in the latest and greatest software, people resisted the change.

But the pandemic changed everything. Practically overnight, companies were forced to upgrade to modern communication and collaboration systems that supported their newly remote workforce. And while roll-outs were sometimes a little bumpy, teams quickly adjusted. Tools like Slack, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams became the norm, and even the least tech-savvy employees eventually learned the ropes.

Now, businesses must learn to harness and scale their workforce’s newfound digital dexterity. We’re diving into what that means and how you can achieve sustainable digital dexterity in your organization.

What Is Digital Dexterity?

Digital dexterity is an individual or group’s ability to adapt to new technology—especially tech designed to help people work more efficiently and drive better outcomes. When a workforce has digital dexterity, they’re agile, adept, and open to new tools. And while employees may still face a learning curve when adjusting to a new product or process, those who are digitally dexterous push through their initial discomfort and strive to master new software.

While digital dexterity requires a certain amount of skill (or, at the very least, a firm grasp of business technology), it’s primarily rooted in your organization’s culture and resulting mindset. When people feel supported and empowered to learn new things, they’re more likely to cultivate digital dexterity than those who are micromanaged and fearful of change.

What Are the Qualities Associated With Digital Dexterity?

To foster digital dexterity in your organization, you’ll need to start by understanding which qualities are most closely associated with those abilities and find ways to nurture them throughout your business.

Here are seven of the most important:

Forward thinking

Is your company focused on the future or stuck in the past? Succeeding in today’s ever-evolving marketplace means keeping a close eye on current trends while simultaneously anticipating what’s coming next. In terms of technology, that means taking opportunities to be an early adopter and helping your workforce master a solution before your competition.

Flexible mindset

Often, teams become trapped in an outdated, “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” manner of thinking. And that makes sense, given humans are creatures of habit who tend to stay where we’re most comfortable. But when your workforce rigidly adheres to old products and processes, it limits innovation. To overcome this, businesses must encourage agility and exploration. Employees should understand that it’s okay to fail so long as they learn from those failures.

Willingness to adapt

Negativity is contagious—especially when it comes from the top. All too often, employees drag their feet and resist adapting because that’s the pervading attitude in their department. This is why it’s crucial to find and empower champions for change who can help spark forward momentum.

Ready for digital changes

How prepared are your employees when it comes time to implement a new solution? Readiness requires more than an email memo or a brief announcement amid an all-hands meeting. To improve your company’s digital dexterity, you have to ensure they have insight into upcoming initiatives long before roll-out, plus a place to access information, like a knowledge managment platform, so they can quickly overcome the learning curve.

A digital-first approach

When you encounter a problem or customer need, do you consider solving it through innovative technology? Becoming a digital-first organization means factoring digital solutions into every decision and leveraging digital products or platforms before resorting to traditional methods. Cultivating a digital-first approach takes time, but eventually, it becomes automatic.

Data-driven decisions

Instead of relying solely on instinct or assumptions, digitally dexterous leaders consult the numbers first and use those insights to ensure they’re making the best possible choice. After all, access to data is one of the greatest benefits of digital transformation. And the more you collect, organize, and use the data available to you, the better off you’ll be.

Promoting an engaged workforce

If you have an autocratic organization where senior leaders make all decisions behind closed doors and employees are merely handed directives, you’ll probably never achieve advanced digital dexterity. Instead, aim for transparency and a culture where employees are encouraged to experiment, innovate, and share their feedback. By giving your employees the freedom and support they deserve, you’ll create a foundation for sustainable digital dexterity.

Why Do Some Organizations Lack Digital Dexterity?

Why do some organizations excel with their digital transformations while others fail to drive meaningful change?

Three obstacles hold businesses back from achieving digital dexterity: 

Poor leadership/ownership over initiatives

Who spearheads your digital efforts? If you don’t have a clear answer, or the responsibility is spread among too many people, that could be an issue. In addition to earning buy-in from senior leadership, you also need to identify who will be accountable for rolling out each digital initiative.

Lack of a clear mission and vision

There’s much more to successful digital transformation than investing in new software. In fact, even the best and most powerful technology on the planet will flop if you don’t have a mission and vision driving your effort. Take time to determine what you want to achieve, which milestones you’ll need to hit along the way, and how you’ll measure your success.

Resistance and outdated thinking

It’s impossible to achieve innovation without updating your way of thinking. (And if you want to learn how effective it is to resist new technology and digital trends, ask former executives from Blockbuster and BlackBerry.) In most cases, refusal to change comes from fear and ignorance, and the best way to overcome that mindset is with empowerment and education. (This is where a strategic change management process will come in handy.)

What Are the Benefits of Digital Dexterity?

Cultivating digital dexterity requires an investment of time, money, and other finite resources—which is another reason some businesses are lagging. But while it can be expensive, it can produce exceptional ROI.

Here are just a few of the benefits you can expect:

  • Higher productivity

When you combine the right technology with digital dexterity, employees will accomplish more. And, better yet, they’ll accomplish more while feeling engaged and less likely to burn out.

  • Enhanced efficiency

Not only will employees get more done, but they’ll also get more done faster. By maximizing efficiency, you’ll also increase revenue.

  • Complete agility

Of course, increasing productivity and efficiency doesn’t always mean better quality. But when you have an agile workforce, employees are more effective in their roles and generate better outcomes because they’re accustomed to pivoting and course-correcting as needed.

  • Advanced risk appetite

Big risks don’t always pay off, but it’s rare to get ahead of your competition or increase your market share without taking them. When digital dexterity is part of your culture, leaders and their employees feel more comfortable taking the sort of risks that drive innovation.

  • Better digital adoption

Finally, when you commit to digital dexterity, you can rest assured your workforce will be ready to embrace every new technology you introduce to their environment. Even if they aren’t totally comfortable at first, they’ll strive to get better.

How Can You Achieve Digital Dexterity In Your Workplace?

So, what can you do to boost your organization’s digital dexterity?

Here are a few steps you can begin taking today:

Keep digital dexterity at the forefront

Set yourself up for success by making digital dexterity a priority, and make sure you’re looping it into every initiative. In other words, don’t let it be an afterthought.

Understand your employees’ mindsets

Do a temperature check. Consider fielding an employee survey to better understand how employees feel about existing technology, how well it was implemented, and whether or not they feel supported or encouraged to excel. The better you understand where your workforce is coming from, the more effective you will be at improving their abilities.

Encourage continuous learning and training

Empower your workforce to keep learning and improving their digital skill sets.  Promote innovation by giving them the time and space to educate themselves, and encourage knowledge sharing to help employees support each other.

Make sure your leaders are on board

Your leadership team sets the stage for the entire organization. If senior leaders and department heads don’t buy into digital dexterity, it will be nearly impossible to get any digital initiative off the ground. 

As we move forward into an increasingly digital-dependent world, agility and openness toward new tech will become non-negotiable. In addition to assessing candidates for tech-savviness, be sure to focus on boosting current employees’ skills and comfort level. By making digital dexterity a fundamental part of your culture, you’ll be well prepared for whatever new trends the future may hold.

February 22, 2022

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