Man sitting at a desk and working on a laptop.
Developing a digital mindset in employees throughout your business can lead to a workforce that is more productive and efficient. — Getty Images/Edwin Tan

Understanding a digital mindset is key to organizational success. The reason? In today’s technology-driven business world, a digital-first approach is not only a competitive advantage—it is mandatory, says Bhrugu Pange, Managing Director in the digital and technology practice with global management consultancy AArete. Research suggests that a digitally savvy workforce is more productive and efficient, and likely to drive customer satisfaction.

What is a digital mindset?

The term “digital mindset” refers to “a set of attitudes and behaviors that enable people and organizations to see how data, algorithms, and AI open up new possibilities and to chart a path for success in a business landscape increasingly dominated by data-intensive and intelligent technologies,” according to Paul Leonardi, a professor in the Department of Technology Management at the University of California at Santa Barbara and Tsedal Neeley, professor of business administration at Harvard Business School. The two are co-authors of “The Digital Mindset: What It Really Takes to Thrive in the Age of Data, Algorithms, and AI (Harvard Business Review Press, 2022).

Fortunately, business leaders can help their employees develop a digital mindset. In fact, it is a critical step in leveraging the right productivity and communication tools to record, analyze, communicate, and learn across all work functions, Pange said.

Effectively implementing digital tools in the workplace

However, simply equipping workers with digital tools isn’t enough, as even stellar employees may ignore them, often due to a resistance to change, Pange said. To overcome this resistance, digital tools should make employees’ jobs easier, so their interactions with the tools are enjoyable. The tools need to be non-invasive and fit smoothly into employees' work and processes, so they eventually can’t imagine working without using these tools. “For example, imagine trying to drive around a new place without GPS navigation,” Pange said. Like GPS, digital tools should provide actionable insights that improve productivity.

Formal and informal training also can drive adoption, Pange said. Formal training includes classes and instructions, while informal training may include tips received from fellow employees and loosely organized networks.

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“We’re always transitioning from one set of practices or business models to the next,” Leonardi said. Organizations need to develop an ethos of experimentation and get feedback on what’s working and what’s not, he added.

Staying on top of changing needs through team collaboration

Because of the volume of new data being collected, produced, and analyzed through digital technologies, employees and organizations today are working within a constant state of change. “We’re always transitioning from one set of practices or business models to the next,” Leonardi said. Organizations need to develop an ethos of experimentation and get feedback on what’s working and what’s not, he added.

Collaboration is critical to a digital mindset, Leonardi and Neeley found. Moreover, the nature of collaboration is changing. For successful collaboration, everyone needs to make themselves present to others, even when they’re working remotely and interactions are nearly 100% mediated by digital tools, Leonardi said.

Also in a digital workplace, artificial intelligence (AI)-powered robots are quickly becoming teammates and colleagues, and not just tools, Leonardi said. For instance, both workers and business leaders need to know whether they can trust the predictions a computer provides, as well as how to issue commands to get a computer system to do what they want.

Collecting and analyzing data to inform business decisions

Computation, or working with data, is another component of a digital mindset, Leonardi and Neeley found. It’s essential to understand how various technologies collect, categorize, and store data so you can make effective decisions and keep any biases from creeping into your predictions. As important, business leaders need to learn how to present data persuasively to key stakeholders so they can turn insights into action.

Planning for a digital transformation is helped by, among other steps, identifying how new tools will help the business achieve better results. That is, digital tools should be viewed as ways to achieve greater organizational performance and problem solving rather than an end in themselves, Leonardi said.

Leaders also need to create a culture that’s receptive to change, Leonardi said. In a digital world, companies continually transition from one set of practices or business models to the next, largely because of all the new data that are being collected, produced, and analyzed through digital technologies.

Businesses no longer can embark on massive change initiatives and then sit tight until the next disruption. “In the digital world, you have to learn to change continuously,” Leonardi said.

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Published July 06, 2022