We live in a digital world, with 24/7 connectivity, news broken in under 140 characters and more mobile devices on the planet than people. And ‘digital’ is all encompassing: we’re not talking about hard, technical skills like coding or application development but the ability to behave digitally.

What does this mean for organisations? It’s about employees being able to use the technology of their choosing to find, access, analyse, use and share information and data, to change and improve ways of working. This has rapidly shifted from being a nice-to-have and is now a concrete means of business differentiation: our recent study into the importance of digital skills found that nearly three-quarters of employees felt the use of digital skills could improve their company’s competitive edge, while two-thirds added that it could impact the revenue and profitability of the business over the next five years.

The challenge, however, is that we also found that less than half of today’s workforce are able to put their digital skills to use. It seems employees find themselves stuck within rigid structures that don’t allow for new working practices or inter-departmental collaboration. Until these digital skills are unleashed, businesses will continue to lose out; unable to attract and retain the talent they want, unable to innovate and keep pace with the competition and unable to capitalise on the business opportunity right under their noses.

Of course, this can be easier said than done. The saving grace is that we’re all in this together – the digital world is one that flattens traditional organisational hierarchies and challenges each of us to embrace new ways of thinking and doing business.

With this in mind, here are the key do’s and don’ts (as we see them) for building digital skills into your business:

Do think carefully about the value digital skills offer YOUR organisation:

Running into this blindly (or even vaguely) is pointless. Be specific about the ways in which digital skills and new ways of working are specifically relevant for your organisation and its current strategy.

Start with ‘why’ you are looking at this, then ‘what’ it is going to do for you that you can’t do today and, only after you’ve answered these, ‘how’ you are going to make it work in your business.

Don’t box digital skills up as an ‘IT project’

This is an initiative for the entire organisation. It would be a huge mistake to limit it to the IT department – after all, technology is pervasive across areas of every aspect of the modern organisation, so why shouldn’t everyone be involved in building out a digital skills strategy?

This is not IT’s problem, it’s everyone’s opportunity!

Do reach out to your wider community

Go beyond the usual suspects. This is an opportunity for a ‘learning mashup’ – whether that’s mixing old and young, finance and creative teams, families and friends – it’s amazing what people will find out from each other when it comes to something universal like this. Almost two thirds of employees, of all ages, are willing to use their own time to learn new digital skills. Organisations must capitalise on this enthusiasm.

Don’t design this from the ‘top down’

Very important: as far as possible, organisations should be encouraging ideas and inputs from a grass roots level. Building digital capabilities requires speaking to people on the frontline, that do the jobs. It’s not a top down initiative; it cannot be about instructing employees as that won’t lead to true engagement with the issue but is getting them involved in a meaningful way, so it’s clear that it’s their opportunity.

Do invest properly

Businesses must not only invest, they must be seen to be investing. Don’t simply side-line it as some soon-to-be-forgotten project. There’s an immense opportunity (internally and externally) to enhance your employer brand by positioning your organisation as a forward thinking one, tackling this complex issue in a significant way.

It most certainly should not be treated as an obligation, tick box exercise or something to pay lip service to.

Don’t be scared to fail

My colleague Joe Baguley, VMware’s CTO in EMEA, recently stated ‘if you want to do innovation, you need to be prepared to let people fail’. Wise words and 100 per cent applicable to building your business’ digital capabilities: this is not about passing a test or getting an accreditation. The point is to engage people in the new digital age and allow them to spring up with new ideas. Remember: there is no such thing as failure, just experience.

By Sue Holly Rodway, Senior Director, VMware EMEA