Today's workplace increasingly relies on technology and data to enable better decision-making. Yet employers often wonder what skills to look for in new hires who will agilely adapt to the changing workplace with the continued development of digital technologies. Who is the right person to understand what all this data means and use it to improve the operations of the facilities they run? Who will help drive digital transformation?
Words like ‘digital native’ and ‘digital mindset’ have somewhat vague and varied definitions, with little guidance on how that mindset manifests in a potential hire. So how is one to know?
Growth mindset vs. fixed mindset
The idea of a mindset is defined as: "an established set of attitudes; the outlook, philosophy, or values of a person; a frame of mind, attitude, disposition” and has been around since the 1900s. However, mindset didn’t take hold of public attention until 90 years later when researchers such as Carol Dweck, Ph.D. began exploring the continuum between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset with the attendant implications to the field of education.
Growth mindset advocates tend to believe intelligence can be developed and abilities can be enhanced through the learning process. With a growth mindset, individuals have a habit of embracing challenges, they persevere in the face of adversity, and will accept feedback to learn from failure. They focus on the process rather than the outcome initially to build a better process to drive better outcomes.
Whereas on the opposite side of the scale, a fixed mindset person is more likely to have the opinion that intelligence is static, and little can be done to improve ability. Feedback is seen as an "evaluation of their underlying ability" since success is seen only because of innate personal ability, not the effort they put in. The exciting news here is that through experience employees can change their mindset as they develop and learn.
What about a digital mindset?
When we hear the words ‘digital mindset’ in reality, we are speaking about a growth mindset focused on curiosity about technology and a willingness to learn and continually update skills as new tools become available to support work outcomes. A digital mindset employee is the proverbial Curious George, if you will, of your workforce. Even better you may already have these people on your team as growth mindsets are not bound by age or domain expertise so before you hire, look around. You might just find you already have someone like a software advocate on your team who is willing to try new things.
Digital mindset characteristics
The person you are looking for likes to tinker with things and improve ways of working, they are naturally curious and always interested in learning something new. Generally, they are optimistic in the face of initial failure and setbacks which usually results in their trying again with renewed vigor. These folks are the children who took apart their bikes or their parents’ phones just to see how things worked. As adults they often ‘upgrade’ their cars or household appliances with custom fixes or changes to tailor things to their evolving needs.
A fun way to find the tinkerers, the growth mindset peers, is to literally look at their workspace. What are the artifacts of their interests they are displaying such as photos, trinkets, and books? If they are diverse and wide-ranging in type, then you are likely to have a growth mindset colleague in that next office.
Are they often rearranging Legos or some sort of materials from paper clips to widgets into new shapes such as my officemate Susan does?
Her walls are covered with photos of all the places she has been and she is always ready to show me a new feature on my phone as she is, by nature, curious. When faced with a new project, she is ready to jump right in and get the lay of the land while I am more likely to read all the documents, prepare a plan and then move forward reflecting my different set point on the mindset continuum. However, if this isn’t what your workforce is comprised of (and perhaps that is a good thing as there is only so much tinkering one facility can take), then there are other ways to find out if a potential employee has the needed mindset to help you on your digital transformation journey.
Interview questions to ask
When interviewing potential candidates, explore their thoughts about their own skill development and their attitude to setbacks. Here are a few possible questions you might ask:
- Give an example of a mission or goal you didn’t think was achievable?
- What was it and how did you help your team try to achieve it?
- What helps you to bounce back when things are going badly?
- What is your view on your learning journey?
- Give an example of a tough piece of feedback you received. What was it and what did you do about it?
- In thinking about your previous role, what do you think you could change to improve your outcomes after receiving that feedback?
- How has technology played a role in your personal life?
As you listen for the answers to these questions, listen for the attitude and motivations that drive this potential hire. While an ability to learn new technological skills is important for digital transformation, employees must also be motivated to use their skills to create new opportunities and explore new information. They need to be interested in seeing how data and insights can open new possibilities for your organization.
This excitement is likely to be expressed through their questions about your organization, your goals and mission. They will likely be especially curious about the future projects that your teams are working towards; be it tracking COVID in the water systems as an early warning sign or tackling forever chemicals that are increasingly being detected in the environment.
But what about technology skills?
Researchers have found that the ability to help an organization on a digital transformation journey doesn’t necessarily require extensive skills in a wide variety of technology as one might expect. Rather as professors Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley point out in their 2022 book entitled The Digital Mindset: What It Really Takes to Thrive in the Age of Data, Algorithms, and AI (Harvard Business Review Press, 2022):
"We have found that to be a competent citizen in the digital world requires only about 30% fluency in a number of areas that we outline in the book (collaboration, computation, and change). Leonardi uses the analogy of learning a foreign language for research shows that a person needs about twelve thousand words to have mastery of a language and communicate fluently. But to be competent enough to work with others who speak another language requires only 30% of that, or about four thousand words.”
The practical implication of this research indicates that your digital champion may already be in your organization and ready to expand their skills. They will engage the right people, ask the right queries, make data informed choices, and appreciate the new potential of a digital future. Alternatively, if you are hiring externally then your best bet is to find someone comfortable and adapt with various technologies but has a solid growth mindset to help your organization become digitally savvy and maximize the opportunities ahead of us all!