Are you and your team future-ready?

Digital technology can’t replicate the human skills of critical thinking and judgment

digital transformation team spirit

Photo courtesy of Next Step
There are some business skills that won’t be replaced by machines. In the digital age, we see a human team (such as Next Step’s) being human to work together to deliver results.

Jennifer Vessels
Next Step—Silicon Valley & Oslo, Norway

Today’s digital world gives access to a range of services and products all through a simple command to smart phone, watch, or appliance. In addition, for businesses, digital technologies also streamline operations, increase productivity of global resources, and increase profitability.

The downside of digital transformation is often employment uncertainty. Studies by Forrester, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and others show that 20 to 35 percent of today’s jobs will be eliminated by automation and technological innovation within the next three to five years. If you are an employee asking, “Will I be relevant and needed in the digital world?” or an employer asking, “How can I develop my employees for success in the future?” consider the following questions:

• Are the daily or weekly tasks in your job repetitive and predictable?
• Are decisions and actions based on historical patterns and logical analysis or a myriad of factors that require judgment and complex problem solving (often with human intuition)?
• What is your role in delivering a positive customer experience through communications, empathy, and decision making?
• Do you lead through inspiration and empowerment of your employees, teams, and suppliers?

In a digital world, robots, machines, and systems may be “taught” to accurately perform actions such as data entry and organization, standardized manufacturing tasks, or even repetitive sales and customer-service functions. However, when unpredicted issues or exceptions occur, human interaction is often required to understand, weigh various aspects of the situation to make judgment calls, and ultimately resolve the problem.

digital transformation skills

Photo courtesy of Next Step
A slide shows the qualities employees will need in the age of digital transformation.

Problem solving through critical thinking
For example, Amazon uses robotics to efficiently pick and package ordered items from the warehouse based on barcode identification. However, when there is damage or a stocking issue, the robot alerts a manager who investigates the issue, determines the root cause, and prevents the issue from recurring in the future.

Across all industries, repetitive tasks can often be done more efficiently and effectively through technology. However, human analysis and judgment are critical for complex problem solving. The employees and managers most skilled in critical thinking and use of human intuition will have the greatest value and relevance in the digital future.

By combining problem solving with customer communications, Oslo accounting firm Azets maximizes profitability and customer experience. Robotics and artificial intelligence are used for the input and organization of clients’ expenses and income for taxation. However, human accountants review and discuss exceptions with clients. Consider a case when Azets’s system identifies a large expense from an unknown source (which might be fraudulent). It then notifies the accountant assigned to the client of the exception. Through analysis of the expense and his or her knowledge of the client’s objectives, the accountant can either verify or dispute the transaction. Often this will require a potentially sensitive discussion or meeting with the client.

People-to-people customer service
Effective interpersonal communication skills are essential when resolving issues affecting clients—whether related to financial transactions, product/service utilization, or business enhancement. By developing the ability to communicate clearly, empathetically, and effectively with employees and customers, employees in all organizations will maximize their relevance.

In a recent study by Accenture Global Pulse Research, 70 percent of consumers said they prefer to deal with a person versus technology—especially when faced with a problem. Those employees best prepared for the future will have demonstrated communications, problem solving, and judgment (through human intuition) skills.

Leadership for the future
In the words of iconic innovator and leader Steve Jobs, “It is not the tools but the people that drive success.” Today, when employees are often dealing with the uncertainty of change in the business world, leaders’ ability to inspire, empower, and instill a vision for the future is more critical than ever. By communicating a clear vision for the future, involving employees in decision making, and empowering them to enhance their critical thinking, problem solving, and judgment skills, leaders and their teams are becoming future-ready.

The future is upon us—start enhancing your relevance today.

This article was provided to The Norwegian American by Jennifer Vessels of Silicon Valley and Oslo. She is CEO of Next Step, leading business transformation for Adobe, Autodesk, Avinor, Microsoft Nevion, Posti, ShoreTel, and more. She can be reached at

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 9, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Norwegian American Logo

The Norwegian American

The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.