Talent is Key to Successful Industrial Digital Transformation

  • April 19, 2017
  • GE Digital
  • Feature
Talent is Key to Successful Industrial Digital Transformation
Talent is Key to Successful Industrial Digital Transformation

By Jennifer Waldo, chief human resource officer, GE Digital, and board member, IoT Talent Consortium

The industrial world has been shaped by a series of foundational technology changes over the last 250 years, from steam to electricity to computers. These changes were felt across the globe and across all industries, changing how people worked and how companies operated. These technology shifts are leading manufacturing organizations to profoundly reconsider how they identify, hire, train and manage talent.

The most recent disruption to impact today’s manufacturer is that of the Internet of Things. Specifically, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT ), a $225 billion space with unique challenges, including finding the right employees to enable digital transformation. McKinsey estimates that the IIoT will create $7.5 trillion in value by 2025.

The Industrial Internet is non-optional – in the same category as electrification of industry in the last century. Those who move quickly will likely enjoy lasting benefits. Those who move slowly have a more uncertain future.

Digital transformation isn’t a one-size-fits-all blueprint. The process of digitization is very different at an industrial company than it would be at a pure technology company. Technological speed and agility are relatively new concepts in the industrial world. Manufacturers are just beginning to embrace the digitized technologies of IoT, automation and analytics needed in order to compete successfully in the current era. Shifting the culture of an industrial company to more quickly adopt and embrace digitization is instrumental for a successful transformation.


Questions to Begin the Journey

The process can seem overwhelming. To get journey to digitization started on the right foot, ask yourself and your leaders a few key questions:

  • Where are there opportunities inside your company to better leverage digital in a way that directly benefits your customers?
  • Where might your current business model get disrupted by digital?
  • Where are there new opportunities for growth using data and analytics?

Some questions are a bit more subtle, but no less important:

  • What does your culture (the unwritten norms that exist) look like today, and what does it need to look like?
  • Do you have a talent/organizational ecosystem (e.g., organizational structure, compensation, benefits, rewards) that will attract and retain talent?
  • Do you have the talent in your organization today to fulfill this vision?
  • Is your vision compelling enough to attract top IoT talent who want to work on cutting-edge solutions and advanced technologies?


Talent for a Digital Future

People are the key differentiator in successful digital industrial. It is essential to acquire talent that is familiar with tech, comfortable with agile methods of process and at ease in an agile culture. It’s also important to bring in the right talent at the right time. I like to think of this change involving a “first” and “second” generation of talent.

Digital transformation will have two phases of talent acquisition. In the “first generation,” look for talented disruptors, similar to entrepreneurs at a tech startup. The first stage needs a safe environment for experimentation, without pressure to deliver immediate results or further development. Some things may fail, and that needs to be okay. This seeds a culture of taking chances and learning from what works and doesn’t work. Pick a few big problems and begin experimenting.

The “second generation” occurs as the business matures. At this point, bring onboard people who know how to disrupt, and how to scale. During the second phase, talent should meet the organization where it is, while also pushing progress forward. People with this talent profile have typically worked at startups and at large companies. They bring experience of being acquired and spending time at the acquiring company. This experience will give the talent the ability to juggle the demands of a startup in a larger company environment.

Talent of this caliber can be trusted to disrupt, push back and question how things are done at every phase of digital industrial transformation. By talking with each other, digital talent and industrial talent can learn from each other – and both will get better.


Assembling a Team From Within and Without

How can you identify the best talent for accelerating digital industrial transformation in your business? It should be a healthy mix of external and internal candidates, or “digital natives” and “digital migrants.”

A digital native is someone who has spent his or her entire career in technology and has experienced – and participated in – tech disruption. Digital migrants have an industrial background but are now starting to learn the principles of agile development in a digital environment. Both are critical to the success of the modern, digitized, industrial company.

The goal is to develop a cohort of digital migrants as part of the existing industrial workforce while attracting digital natives into a new kind of workplace. Digital natives coming to an industrial organization for the first time have a lot to adjust to. They will need to understand the end-customer, the larger, industrial ecosystem and become accustomed to working in a matrixed organization.

Digital migrants should have high learning agility, systems thinking, empathy and coaching skills. Typically, they serve in a translator role, with enough understanding about both digital natives and the current workforce to educate and coach both groups, becoming true advocates for transformation. Cross-functional leaders from finance, HR, manufacturing and engineering are great candidates for becoming digital migrants.


Shifting the Culture

If change were easy, every organization would change immediately without effort or incident. Change is difficult, but it is essential. This is no ordinary change – this is transformation.  It requires a strong vision, leap-of-faith assumptions and a fierce protection of the new idea you are incubating, lest it be choked by the inertia of the existing culture.

Incoming leaders must assess what the cultural values are for the company today and strike a balance between that existing culture and integrating new talent who can teach and bring the company and its culture further along.

When I joined GE Digital four years ago (when it was a software center of excellence) to lead the HR function, I came from 11 years in one of the company’s largest industrial businesses. As one of only a handful of traditional industrial employees in the software business, I initially felt like an outsider. Over time, I became a “digital migrant” among many “digital natives.” Success required learning from digitally experienced and minded colleagues while incorporating their insights into the larger company world – embracing change and innovation while also protecting what is best about the company.  This process is ongoing, but I believe that the digital and industrial worlds have a lot to learn from each other.


A Digital Vision

Just as steam-powered engines revolutionized transportation, digitization is having a profound effect on all sectors – most significantly in the industrial realm. While the focus of digital transformation is often on the technology, organizations must first focus on changing its talent identification, hiring, training and management. Digital natives and migrants must work together, creating a new corporate culture fully backed by leadership to complete a cohesive vision of a truly digital industrial organization.

About the author

Jennifer Waldo is the chief human resource officer at GE Digital, where she leads digital talent transformation. She is responsible for people and organization capabilities that drive digital DNA across the company. Waldo is also member of the board at the IoT Talent Consortium.

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