The biggest digital transformation is people not tech.

24 Jul 2017

Let’s say you are the CEO of a big international company. You know your customers increasingly find and interact with you online and you also know that your company needs a radical restructuring. The phrase ‘Digital Transformation’ is bandied around by the board and by consultants. So, the first thing you do is arrange a review of the latest marketing tech available.

Surely that makes sense? Transformation is going to require technology to be implemented first, doesn’t it?

Maybe not. Increasingly, research shows that strategy and staff are the two key issues to focus on at the start of a digital transformation process. At Propel we have a wealth of experience in hiring not only individuals but whole teams for companies who have decided to undertake this process. Indeed, the spark for writing this piece came from a conversation with a client who had a need to fill five roles as soon as possible.

Through every stage of the digital transformation journey, the requirements for talent and skills change. For many businesses, this is creating a major challenge when recruiting and retaining sought-after professionals. Obviously, the scale of those challenges depends on the size of the company, the extent of the transformation and where they are in the process. But importantly it also depends on the culture and style of leadership in the organisation and here we can look at two differing approaches.

The first is the reactive approach and its one we see sadly too often. A CEO or CMO has insisted on starting by bringing in tech which the existing team could just not exploit to its fullest extent. At this stage, hires are made very quickly to ensure that the (usually substantial) investment in the tech starts to pay off. Often this can cause resentment amongst the existing team and sometimes towards the process itself. We’ve spoken before many times about the dangers of hiring a person quickly rather than spending a little more time and making sure you hire the right person.

The other approach and the one that most often results in success is to start with a top down approach. Look around any of the plethora of articles on digital transformation and you will see the phrase, ‘Your CEO should also be your Chief Digital Officer’. The effective CEO will build a digital first culture, move away from siloed teams and ensure that you are not just changing the skill set of your company but also the mindset as well.

I’ve seen many times that people will not follow leaders who lack a sense of clarity and strength in their decision making. To persuade people to get behind a transformation project, the best leaders will set out their vision and stick to it. The hardest part of the transformation is often convincing people that change needs to happen. The best leaders will set out the vision, identify the skills gaps, hire the right people, communicate with their teams and then bring in the right technology needed. Put people first and you might be onto a winner.

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