Development of digital competences – three practical approaches

In an earlier contribution, I have identified fields of action in which digital competences play a role (Krapf 2017b). The basis of this thought structure was the division into an operative, a strategic and a normative level (see Fig. 1). This framework of reference was not an end in itself, but was to be used mainly for the following purposes help to create a common understanding of „digital“ competences in practice.


Figure 1: Fields of action for the development of digital competences (Krapf 2017b)

Operative level: dealing with „digital“ media

I have already mentioned the derivation of the fields of action at another point (Krapf 2017d). Therefore, let me repeat briefly: at one end of the spectrum, the „digital“ competences are located at the operative level, with which, above all, the following points are identified very tangible skills in dealing with digital products and instruments are meant. The understanding of „digital“ competence is comparable to media literacy, except that the media have changed somewhat and in this context are limited to digital media. Examples include the handheld scanner for postwomen, OneNote for office workers or the iPad for customer advisors.

Normative level: Being competent and successful in a „digital“ world

At the other end of the spectrum is the normative level, which does not (only) mean the value base for a digital working world (keyword Arbeitswelt 4.0). Because with digital transformation, forms of organization and work are also changing, which necessitates new skills (Krapf 2017a). At this level,“digital“ competences are understood in the broad sense and are not limited to dealing with „digital“ media. Rather, these are general competencies that are necessary in a digital, quasi-automated world. For this reason, the following are particularly important here generic competences and personality traits such as openness to new things, learning and reflection competence, creativity or problem-solving skills (Krapf 2017c). While there are competences that seem to be important for all employees, there is probably a need for managers (as long as there are such in the traditional form) to have additional competences in order to accompany this new form of organisation and work in the transition. Therefore, the normative level consists of two fields of action. One for managers and the other for all employees.

Strategic level: Driving the digital transformation in your own organization forward

The strategic plane is located between the two ends of the spectrum. The question here was what skills the employees need in order to be able to bring digital transformation into the organization and use it strategically. Thus, neither the use of „digital“ media (operational level) nor the generic competences in a „digital world“ (normative level) are in the foreground here – even if these can be elementary aspects. At this level, it is mainly at work. to be able to develop and implement (new) strategic directions in order to translate the digital transformation into one’s own organisational context (keyword: Driving „digital“ change).

Approach to implementation: Think Big, Act Small

These fields of action are, of course, not clearly defined. However, they help to understand the diversity of „digital“ competences that can be understood and that is probably necessary for a holistic approach. This does not make the concrete development of competences quite easy, because it increases the complexity considerably. The thinking structure with the three levels (see fig. 1) provides a first indication of possible needs for action in the organization. As is often the case with complex projects, it is then important to think big but act small (Jennings 2012). So it’s better to take the first small steps rather than plan the big litter for months. This is not only important experience gained quickly. Seeds can be sown with many small steps everywhere in the organisation, which then blossom more and more and thus spread seeds themselves.

Three approaches from practice

In the last few weeks, I have been working intensively on the concrete measures that can now be developed for the individual levels. And although I am not yet able to present reports of experiences from implemented and evaluated interventions, I have learned in the last few days three exciting solutions which I would not like to withhold:

Example 1: Curriculum for (Senior) Management

In this approach, senior management was identified as a target group. The idea was that these are a central lever for scaling in a hierarchical organization. The solution approach can therefore be located primarily in the normative level in the reference framework presented above, even though it is hoped that this will have a broad effect on all levels.

The content of the measure is a curriculum for about two days of training, which comprises the following three content blocks: (1) customer orientation; (2) agile leadership; (3) digital transformation. These three blocks are to be developed integratively and in concrete cases of the participants. The third block of the digital transformation will not only present technological developments such as the Internet of Things, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, blockchain etc. Rather, a basic understanding of the technology serves as a starting point for developing innovation opportunities for one’s own context.

Example 2: External training in „Digital Management“ for executives

Another solution is to send managers to an external training course on digital transformation. In this example, the focus was on the digital transformation with which the participating executives dealt in three seminar blocks of three to four days each. The first seminar block focused on the latest technological developments. In the second block the culture of innovation and in the third block the possibility of transformation. Here too, the participants worked on their own cases, using the „Design Thinking“ method in all three seminar blocks.

Example 3: Training workshop for key personnel from all hierarchy levels

In this third example, key positions were identified from an organizational unit and subsequently jointly conducted a two-day workshop on digital transformation. This workshop, conducted by external consultants, first dealt with the basics of digitization. The participants then developed digitization ideas for a topic from their own organizational context using different models. Beispiel 3: Schulungs-Workshop für Schlüsselpersonen aus allen Hierarchiestufen

Conclusion from the three possible solutions

The presentation of the three examples already shows a high similarity at first glance. What I take with me for my work:

  • The competence development begins with a short introduction to clarifying what „digital transformation“ actually is and which technological developments are imminent. Afterwards, it becomes context-specific very quickly, as the participants have to transfer what they have learned to their own work. In my opinion, this is not only didactically useful, but also helps to justify such training measures to decision-makers who see costs rather than investments in personnel development.
  • Choosing key people as the first focus can be an effective start. Because they have the influence potential to scale the „digital“ competences in all fields of activity organization-wide. The difficulty will probably be to find the „right“ key people, since they are not necessarily (only) to be found in senior management. These approaches alone are not yet able to solve all the challenges of developing „digital“ competences. Nevertheless, they are a promising start for me in the sense of „Think Big, Act Small“. Further measures will, of course, have to follow. What these can be is a topic for a future contribution.


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Jennings, J. (2012). Think big, act small. How America’s best performing companies keep the start-up spirit alive. New York, NY.

Krapf, J. (2017a). Agilität als Antwort auf die Digitale Transformation. Synergie – Fachmagazin für Digitalisierung in der Lehre (3), 32–33.

Krapf, J. (2017b). Entwicklung „digitaler“ Kompetenzen: Leitende Fragestellung zur Umsetzung. https://​​/​2017/​10/​12/​entwicklung-digitaler-kompetenzen-leitende-fragestellungen-zur-umsetzung/​. Zugegriffen 28.10.2017.

Krapf, J. (2017c). Welche „Digitalen“ Kompetenzen benötigen wir in Zukunft? Ein Fallbeispiel mit generischem Wert. https://​​/​2017/​06/​24/​welche-digitalen-kompetenzen-benoetigen-wir-in-zukunft-ein-fallbeispiel-mit-generischem-wert/​. Zugegriffen 12.10.2017.

Krapf, J. (2017d). Welche Digitalen Kompetenzen brauchen wir? https://​​/​2017/​09/​14/​welche-digitalen-kompetenzen-brauchen-wir/​. Zugegriffen 12.10.2017.

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