Focus on rapid learning to build a future-ready workforce, says MIT CISR

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Australian businesses are global laggards in the race to equip for the digital future of business. To catch up, they will need to invest in skills and technology – and especially in a culture of rapid learning.

That’s the view of MIT Sloan research scientist Kristine Dery, the keynote speaker of this year’s iTnews Digital Nation series, which looks at the digital fitness of Australian organisations.

Meanwhile, Roby Sharon-Zipser, CEO of Hipages, the leading online platform for tradespeople, and Mark Cohen, the CEO of insurtech Wilber (and former CIO of Domain), stress the importance of such issues as data-led decision making and team management in a world of transnational talent and hybrid working.

They make these comments in a new iTnews Digital Nation mini-documentary about the digital fitness of organisations in Australia and New Zealand (watch the video at the start of this article).

Dery says, “This requires investment in technologies, it requires realignment of resources, and rethinking where the technology investments are going to lie.”

It also requires leaders to completely reimagine the types of learning in their organisations. 

“I can't emphasise that enough, because in our large corporations, typically, we had skilling that relied on people acquiring skills to move from one part of the hierarchy to the next part of the hierarchy. You moved across the organisation or acquired a new job and therefore acquired new skills.”

According to Dery, “In these more contemporary digital organisations, we have to be much more focused around rapid learning.”

The term rapid learning is gaining traction in corporate environments. “It means we have to drive more curiosity into our enterprise. We have to be asking more questions about why it is that people are struggling. Are they struggling?  We've got to be much more engaged with our people,” Dery explains.

It is critical to listen and understand whether the tools employees use, or their capabilities and ways of working, are creating challenges. 

“And we've seen how hard it is to move into these more agile-type ways of working, however you describe that,” Dery comments.

Leadership challenge

Companies are increasingly drawing on talent wherever it resides in the world, and employees are typically in hybrid working environments. These factors create hurdles when building high-performance teams. 

Mark Cohen, CEO of Wilbur, understands all too well the challenges of managing a geographically distributed team – the company has employees in Australia, the United States and Ukraine. 

“Keeping people in sync is quite difficult”, Cohen says. “So we try and be very, very clear. And we also try and work very clearly to define who you should be checking in with if you’ve got an idea that’s going beyond what was expected of you, who you're talking to about it. So very structured in that regard.” 

Cohen sees decision-making frameworks as just as important as clear lines of communication. 

“[Decision-making frameworks are] actually very useful, because you'll find situations where you have some strongly opposed views or opinions, and that you don't always want them floating up to an executive committee or to a board to make decisions on things that should really be resolved in the teams, or in between businesses. 

“And that's where having some kind of a delegation, it works really well, to say ‘In the event that you guys are not sure, that's the person who's going to decide’,” Cohen says.

When it comes to adopting new technologies, Cohen highlights the value of shadow IT solutions. But staying on top of these new and emerging technologies isn’t easy when there isn't a single person dedicated to the job. 

“I guess that's a stretch goal for a lot of companies at the moment is, how do you stay aware of that? I don't have a really good answer on that one. But it's definitely a challenge,” he says.

Kristine Dery says one quality that sets high performers apart from the pack is their use of analytics. 

Roby Sharon-Zipser, CEO and co-founder of Hipages, says that the company’s leadership team meets weekly to track real-time metrics tied to the organisation’s goals. 

“We do a check-in with the team, as a team, and we ask questions, we probe it. What can we do to get those weekly metrics back on track or celebrate when they're on track? Or how do we accelerate the metrics even more if we're winning?” he says.

The commitment to data-led decision making is paying off, Sharon-Zipser suggests. He says that during the pandemic, Hipages was one of the only companies in Australia that listed on the ASX with a forecast that they subsequently (favourably) revised. 

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