Winning the Digital War for Talent

  • Gerald C. Kane, Doug Palmer, Anh Nguyen Phillips, and David Kiron
  • November 30, 2016

Many traditional talent management processes weren’t designed for today’s increasingly digital world. That’s why a new approach is needed.

As companies attempt to compete in an increasingly digital world, they face a wide range of challenges. Somehow, with limited resources and competing priorities, they must develop the capabilities they need so that their activities, people, culture, and structure are well-aligned with their organizational goals in a changing competitive environment. One of the most critical issues is finding the right people — something many companies appear to be struggling with — and designing paths forward that meet their needs. In a 2016 digital business study and research project that MIT Sloan Management Review and consulting firm Deloitte LLP conducted, we found that the ability of companies to attract and retain talent was one of the most serious — and most overlooked — digital threats companies faced. Seventy percent of the more than 3,700 executives, managers, and analysts we surveyed agreed that their organizations needed a new or different talent base to compete effectively in a digital world.

Yet the actual skills that organizations and their employees likely need may come as a surprise. Respondents indicated that technical skills were most important only 18% of the time for leaders and 27% of the time for other employees. Many saw other capacities — being change-oriented, forward thinking, and having a transformative vision — as equally important or even more important for working successfully in a digital environment. Today’s employees are looking for opportunities to work for companies that will allow them to develop and demonstrate the skills and abilities that they need to succeed in the digital world.

Organizations that can provide such opportunities, be it through formal training or hands-on experience, have an advantage in both attracting and holding on to talent. According to our survey, respondents who felt that their employers did not offer opportunities to develop their digital skills were six times more likely to say they expected to leave the company within a year than those who worked for more digitally mature organizations where there were more skill development opportunities. Those who were disposed toward leaving weren’t just the younger, less-experienced employees but also middle and upper managers, who are often seen as critical to an organization’s future. Unless companies act quickly, they are likely to lose talent they currently have and experience difficulty attracting new talent.