Dive right in! Sink or swim!
Dive right in! Sink or swim!

How to Develop your Digital Superstars

Summary: Training and development takes some time – but you can build an environment that promotes self-guided work, enabling this type of thinking in a straightforward way.

Recently, I asked one of my favorite project managers how she became that indispensable team member, the person most in demand for the important projects. “I remember when we recruited you for the IT team”, I said, “you came to the table with this terrific base of knowledge. Where did you get that from?”

This is an effective way to drill for an answer to a difficult, wispy question; I was not asking for theory or conjecture. I was looking for a specific example of a clearly defined success; month over month, after she first started working with the system, how did she develop her skills? And her answer was fairly straightforward – you just dive right in, and figure the answer out for yourself. With most Digital systems and processes, standard training is great for the baseline stuff – how to navigate the screens, where all of your core menu options are located, and the basic workflows for key transactions or processes. But the most valuable things to learn, she pointed out, were the online help system, the knowledge base of previously answered trouble tickets – and Google.

Armed thusly, a reasonably talented person can find the answers for themselves – or find someone else who can help solve the issue. Building this extended community of experts can develop your knowledge base, collecting the myriad little details that will make up your highly valued brilliance. At this point in the “training” process, it is either sink or swim – you have to figure it out, because no one else will. And if you survive the first month or so, and wish to remain working in this role / on this team, you will learn; very rapidly, sometimes by rote, sometimes by inventing new knowledge.

After a few months, the folks that survive this process will have demonstrated a knack for self-directed learning, plus an interest in being known as the person that can answer questions. This leads to the next step – people that can generate their own questions. People who can see opportunity emerging from the funny patterns of noise in those help desk tickets, program bugs, incoming emails, water-cooler questions, and recurring problems. They can apply systems-level thinking to issues with business processes, data, or technology, with a deep appreciation for the domain – the specifics about your customers, markets, and operations.

Yes, this training and development takes some time – but you can build an environment that promotes this type of thinking in a straightforward way. The key is a focus on problem solving with knowledge retention – working to kill root cause issues dead, and capturing knowledge around solutions and workarounds to avoid solving the same problems over and over again.

To be clear – this is not something you can systematize away. It takes the right kind of person, with an innate sense of curiosity, self-confidence, and some basic Digital aptitude. Put those kind of people in the right environment, and you will be able to internally develop that critical Digital talent that is desperately sought after in the marketplace.

# 10 March, 2019

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James MacLennan

... is the Managing Partner at Maker Turtle LLC, a digital consultancy focused on creating value in ways that align with your strategy and drive engagement with employees, customers, and stakeholders. He is an active creator, providing thought leadership through on-line & print publications, and public speaking / keynotes.