Building a learning culture with AI

Here's how Johnson & Johnson is tapping the power of artificial intelligence to fuel organization-wide digital acumen
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Building your organization’s digital acumen is a critical priority for CIOs today. You won’t be future-ready by simply hiring people with the most cutting-edge skills – you also need to create a culture where everyone is continually working on growing and evolving their skills together.

I often tell my IT organization that the half-life of an IT professional is about 18 months because technology is constantly changing; thus, it is critical we are all continual learners. That’s true not only at Johnson & Johnson; I’ve observed this across other companies and industries too.

To support building our IT organization’s digital acumen, we implemented a program that uses artificial intelligence to assess our skills. Not only has this given us tremendous transparency into the strengths and gaps in our organization, but it’s also enabled us to keep our team members marketable and empowered. When you have an empowered team, they are more likely to be motivated to bring their best to their work.

Using AI to assess skills

The methodology we applied uses a three-pronged approach, assessing about 40 technical and leadership skills across our IT organization.

[ Also read Artificial intelligence (AI): 7 roles to prioritize now. ]

The first element is an AI model, which uses both internal and external data to assess competencies against a core skill set we are seeking to assess and develop; e.g., a full-stack engineer.

It compares employees’ skill sets to someone in a similar role or title in the external marketplace on a scale of 1 to 5. We also pull in internal data sources, such as Jira and Workday, which contain information from their resumes, for example. That helps strengthen the accuracy and correlation of the model.

The second element used to assess skill sets is an employee self-assessment. Employees receive the results of the AI model, and they validate whether they believe their skills are in line with the AI assessment.

The final prong is the manager assessment, in which the manager rates the skills of that individual employee.

This approach to assessing skill sets has been valuable for several reasons. First, it ensures the use of objective information in the evaluation process, reducing the influence of subjective views that managers may have, based on limited interactions with employees. We can see if someone has much stronger skills in a particular area than we may have known, or if someone’s skills aren’t as robust in one area as we may have thought.

We don’t use this data punitively, however, and we’ve been very clear about that from the start. Rather, it gives us a baseline for how we can develop our team members for the future.

This data has also provided greater insight into skill areas that are important to our future state but where we’re less evolved. That’s enabled us to think about how to increase learning and experience opportunities so we can work on growing those desirable skill sets.

Having data-driven insights into our skill strengths and gaps has enabled us to focus on how we can double down and build upon them.

The data has also given us insight into employees with strong skills that we didn’t know about until we had the assessment results. Now we’re able to tap them for their expertise and for new opportunities, which allows them to develop and share those skill sets with others. The data has also uncovered development opportunities for managers to advance capabilities and continually improve.

[ Increasing digital acumen across the organization is a key priority for CIOs, according to a report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. Learn more.

While we’ve learned a lot about the composition of skills in our organization, the data has enabled us to identify and prioritize skills for the future, too. To be future-ready, we know we must continue to focus on skills around intelligent automation, data engineering, data management, data science, full-stack development, architecture, AI, and product leadership. We’ve discovered that we have some really strong skills in areas like lab integration, scrum, and product team development.

Having data-driven insights into our skill strengths and gaps has enabled us to focus on how we can double down and build upon them. We’re encouraging everyone to create a learning development plan, and to support that, we’ve developed several learning modules that individuals can leverage for training.

Creating opportunities for applying skills

The feedback we’ve received from team members both inside and outside our organization has been phenomenal. They see that we’re investing in their future, and they have a clear picture of how they’re positioned in the organization. They want to develop their skills so they can be viable, valuable, and marketable.

While growing and learning new skills is important, the key is to create opportunities for them to apply and leverage these new skills. One way we’ve supported this is through what we call our gig marketplace – a forum where teams can advertise for specific skill sets and where individuals can apply to fulfill them.

For example, a team working on a technology solution supporting our cancer treatment therapy might need a full-stack developer. If you’re qualified for that project, you can apply for the opportunity to participate on the team and put those skills to work.

We’re also using the tool to put together high-performing teams from diverse backgrounds to solve a common problem. This is another way for individuals to amplify the type of work they want to do while interacting with different people with different skill sets.

Making this work for you

We’ve reaped tremendous value from this skills assessment, and it’s helped our broader organization understand the importance of growing our digital acumen. It’s important that CIOs don’t do this alone, however.

CIOs need to create partnerships across the C-suite for this to be effective throughout the organization – leading within the technology domain while HR leads the overall talent approach and business leaders apply their strategies.

With persistence, you can show progress along the digital talent journey over time. Tie it into the core of the company, into the mission, and bring everyone along the way. That’s how we’ve tackled improving our digital acumen so we can continue to drive outcomes and serve the patients and customers who are counting on us every day.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Jim Swanson is a global business and technology leader and currently Chief Information Officer of Johnson & Johnson, the world’s premier healthcare company. Based at the company headquarters in New Jersey, Jim is responsible for amplifying Johnson & Johnson’s business impact and shaping its direction through the strategic use of technology.

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