We spoke to the Co-founder and Head of Orkla Digital Academy, at Orkla ASA, a Norwegian conglomerate operating in the Nordic region, to talk about all things L&D and what the Skills of Tomorrow look like
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1. Please tell me a bit about your role and your key responsibilities 

I work at Orkla head office in a department called Orkla marketing and innovation, I lead up the digital academy and initiated the digital academy in 2018. Previously I worked in an Orkla business area called care, home and healthcare.

Back then (2018) we saw that a lot of our categories are becoming digitally disrupted. Lots is happening in terms of consumers moving from traditional brick and mortar to buying things via subscription online or through other channels. So it's influencing our sales and also opportunities in terms of how to connect with consumers and we've had this over some time.

We recruited quite a few digital experts internally, but we could see that they didn't necessarily speak the same language as the rest of our organisation. So we weren't leveraging their competency. We also saw a lot of the discussions in management teams weren't always giving us the best results because people would say no to ideas because they didn't necessarily understand them. Generally coming from a lack of competency to fully grasp what was happening and even down to the terminology.

We first set up (the academy) as a pilot and then rolled it out not only in the care companies but also across all of our other business areas. So we're now learning and development leaders, and I'm a marketeer by trade, having been working in that area in the past 20 years.

We just saw an opportunity (the digital academy) and it became much bigger than we thought. So instead of it being part of our job, it became our full-time job after some time.

2. Have your businesses priorities changed due to Covid?

We were already fairly online with the academy. So maybe it was sped up by more people at home, and more people are eager to learn, but more or less, things are fairly similar to before. And for some of the business areas of course, operationally, it has changed quite dramatically.



3. What are the main challenges for your business if you look at the next 12-24 months?

Covid is accelerating the speed of things. It's accelerating our need to adapt with consumers moving to other channels quicker than we had expected. However, I find that one of our main challenges is how we get people to understand how to leverage digital opportunities in general. Everything from marketing to supply chain and sales, to how to use data and analytics.

One of the challenges is we see quite a spread internally at Orkla. Where some of our companies are very on top of this, and then other companies are behind and don't think it is relevant to them. So it’s about how to get those companies to realise that they need to get out of just a brick and mortar retail and set themselves up to succeed and leverage opportunities.

Haagen: We are a brick and mortar heavy business, and our focus is still very much on making sure that we have top-line growth within brick and mortar retail. That is the absolute most important thing for our business.

And we're focusing on the emerging importance of digital, but still, our challenge is how do we make sure that people awaken and put time aside to learn those things because soon it's going to be impacting the business, which may be in 12 months, or maybe in 36 months.
Online went from 8 to 12.5% for Orkla, so it is still a small part of the mix. We are thinking more in terms of a long term perspective. Some parts will be hit more hard.

And some of the challenges from my perspective is that when you think of digital, you quite often think of e-commerce and how much sales are coming through digital channels. But doing business in a digital age is more than just the sales. It's how we market, how we get insights and how we are secure with data. And now also about how and where the product is produced, all the way through the consumers, GDPR, compliance and so forth, so it's much, much more than just the sales part.

But as long as the sales are small it's not hitting the business. So there is a feeling that you don't have to pay so much attention to it. It's quite a hurdle internally when people look at it like that.


4. Specifically, what are the main challenges in regards to people/talent?

It is about needing to upskill or reskill your current workforce. So that they have the right skills to succeed with everything going on.

And then you have to attract the right people with the right skill sets. I think that's something a lot of managers find challenging. How do you evaluate someone who's a digital expert when we don't necessarily always have lots of experience doing that? How do we know we are attracting the right people?


5. How are you dealing with this? What’s your plan? 

A lot of the learning and development is also based on what the business units want. Unlike other companies where you create a global program and roll it out, for Orkla, if a business unit wants it, then they buy it specifically.

That's been our model, as well as that we do offer training products to business units, but they have to select them and put in the time and money. It's not something we decide on their behalf.


If you look at your organisation’s capabilities and the skills of the employees

6. What are the main strengths?

The main strengths are brick and mortar related skills. Such as category management, key account management, brand management and so on. All those areas where it's second nature to us. It's part of the culture. And so that is absolute strength, putting us a little bit ahead of the rest of the field.


7. Where are the main weaknesses or opportunities for improvement? Has this changed based on Covid?

The emergence of e-commerce, and everything that goes with that in terms of product, imagery and content. And looking ahead, the rise of AI, Algorithms and how they can help with processes. As well as everything going mobile, and using data and insights. This won’t affect the business in the next 12 to 36 months but looking ahead at the next 6, 7, 8 years. Not many people are thinking about this currently.


8. And when you look at the next 2-3 years, which skills do you think are most important?

I find this a bit challenging to answer because it depends on which department we are talking about. We cover the whole value chain. We have factories, and we have marketing, and sales and R&D, and I think this is why the topic of digital becomes challenging when we talk about it internally. It's like this huge elephant and you know you have to eat the whole animal, but you don't know where to start.

So we talk about how we could look at opportunities where we use digital tools to improve our business in the short and long term. And then it's really up to the business units to figure out what are those opportunities and what are the gaps that they see, and what kind of competencies do they need.

It's very challenging to say these three things we need to look into because all of the departments have different things they need to improve.

But I think if you just took marketing, there is more we can do in terms of how we leverage data. And I think that goes across a lot of our departments too. How can we use data to optimise processes, be more targeted, essentially how can we have more data-driven? Because we have lots of data. That's something that is a common denominator across departments.

But then there are specifics for brand managers and something else for our innovation managers and so on.

9. Where do you see the biggest gaps between ambition and reality of skill sets? 

I think that, again, you know, goes back to the departments and even sort of in our business units. It's so varied, we have some companies that are quite far ahead, and then we have another side that is just awakening.

Back when I was a brand manager, all of the different business units had more or less the same kind of marketing department setup, and the role of the brand manager was essentially the same, regardless of what kind of business or category you were within. Over the years, this has changed quite a bit. But maybe not as much as I was thinking. But I think that a lot of senior people grew up with this and they still think of the roles as quite similar, that the role of the brand manager is more like a potato (could be a little bit of everything).

But now I think about this T-shaped kind of a profile. Not only with the departments, but also with the individuals. I think that has not sunk in with a lot of people here at Orkla, and the fact that we are more like generalists, than a sum of specialists. It's something that I think it's going to change more soon.

We've traditionally hired and wanted to have people in brand manager positions, who are business people who've gone to business school, and who are very strong analytically. Who has a business mindset and who were good at the briefing and challenging briefs and getting agencies to deliver great quality results.

We've never really done the work ourselves. We have had advertising agencies, design agencies, and we've been good at getting them to do the job. And that has been one of our core skills. We've been good at knowing what is best practice and then delivering on that. Now there is this whole shift towards in-housing, doing more of the work ourselves. And that's not something we're used to. I think that's one of the challenges - this T shaped person because we're used to the agencies having that, so they have to be able to figure that out and we just were just really good purchasers. I think that's a major shift, at least how I see it.

And now there is a discussion about when should we in-house? When is it beneficial, when is it better to pay a higher fee but get other people doing the work because it becomes so complex by taking it in house?

There are pros and cons to in-housing. It was a success in some of our companies, but then we see other companies who don't want to do it. But in-housing adds to the complexity. But we might have to do it because we see that the agencies aren't quick enough and I think that's a major change. Due to social media in particular. You can't create a brief, then three months later launch the campaign. Now, you have to answer in maybe half an hour because the opportunity is there on Facebook. So I think that’s a major shift, and I don't know who is managing this super well.


10. How do you assess the skills of your team?

I can use the analogy, when we talk about our organisation, of a team trying to set a world record for the 10,000m race. Usually, you have pacesetters to keep the world record pace, they run ahead of the rest of the main field. And that is something that has happened at Orkla, with really good people that are digital natives and know their stuff. And they're so far ahead of the main group. So the issue that we are trying to solve, when we created the digital academy in the first place, was to close the gap between the pacesetters and the rest of the field.

What we also found was that the digital experts, they're not digital experts in everything within marketing, maybe within their specialist T-shaped profile. So they can also learn more. It is a fact that all of us need to develop our skills and master the new way of doing business, just as we used to with the old way of doing business. So it's more cultural change that we need within the teams.