Tim Ellis
Tim Ellis 14 January 2020

Appointing The Right Talent To Lead Your Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is very much on the corporate agenda. Most organisations have now moved beyond the ‘what is it?’ stage and are now working hard to drive their own transformation initiatives.

However, the elephant in the room is that most digital transformation strategies fail to deliver. And with time running out you can hardly afford to invest many hours and money into something that won’t deliver the efficiencies and competitive advantage you need to survive. 
So how is it that most transformations fail and only some go onto deliver the success you’re looking for? 

The answer is talent. Like any major change initiatives, sponsorship must come from the very top – the CEO and the board must understand the challenge and communicate clear strategic priorities of the business and then empower the right people with the right skills to deliver it. 

Digital transformation is different from other change initiatives in that it is all-encompassing. With digital transformation it is necessary, metaphorically speaking, to reinvent the business, to uncouple its constituent parts and reconfigure them to deliver new digitally enabled efficiencies and a new agility that can only come from adopting new ways of working and collaborating across functional silos. 

The talent required to do this must be able to lead and engage with stakeholders across the business whose day job remains ‘business as usual’ and whose first instinct upon hearing the term ‘digital transformation’ is very likely to be fear and with that we know that means resistance to change. And yet these are the people who are best placed and indeed need to be involved in the design of the new organisation because they have the knowledge required to do it. Digital transformation is something that can only be achieved from within. Yes, it’s possible to harvest the low hanging fruit and digitise old processes for efficiency but to create an organisation that is capable of sustaining competitive advantage through incremental and step-change innovations requires an engaged workforce unconstrained by enforced organisational barriers or personal fears. 

It takes empowered leadership from people who understand the scale and complexity of the challenge of digital transformation and who have the core competencies required to deliver it. 

In their book Orchestrating Transformation, Michael Wade and James Macaulay from IMD Business School describe the four must-have competencies of the type of digital transformation leader most likely to succeed, described by the acronym H.A.V.E.

H – Humility 

The recognition and acceptance of the idea that you don’t always know best. Embrace and tap into the ideas of others whose expertise can help you to make better decisions, modify plans and execute better.

A – Adaptability 

To be agile enough to be comfortable in working in multiple disciplines, in multiple areas of the business and being flexible enough to change when conditions demand.

V – Visionary

This is something that can’t really be taught; the ability to look around corners, to look at competitors, different types of competitors, especially across industries, being comfortable looking forward, seeing opportunities and threats in places where others might not.

E – Engaged 

This is probably the most important trait as you need to be engaged with the business to create buy-in with others across the organisation, engage with them at an individual contributor level, helping them to understand the direction and the ‘why’ of the transformation and what’s in it for them. 

So, humility, adaptability, vision, engagement or H A V E are the key attributes required by the people you should choose to lead your digital transformation. 

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