Digitisation is happening and won’t be stopped. It is obviously a threat to many companies. It is also a major opportunity to strategically leapfrog your competition – as long as you can align the skills and talents of your organisation with its fast evolving business model.

Where are all the flying cars? Futurists of the 20th century imagined our city skies full of them. We’re still waiting for this particular future to arrive, of course.  But what’s relevant is that across all industries—from consumer goods to health care, manufacturing to financial services— more companies are going digital. The revolution of digitisation is fundamentally changing the way companies make and sell products as well as reach customers.

From capturing “Big Data” insights to creating online platforms for inventory management or customer service, there are significant opportunities—and challenges—for traditional companies. Customer demands are prompting radical overhauls of how business gets done by employing “intuitive interfaces, around-the-clock availability, real-time fulfillment, personalized treatment, global consistency, and zero errors”. Those that successfully make the transition are poised to reap competitive advantages, from higher profit margins to faster market share growth. Some will be “true disruptors,” reshaping their industries to their advantage.

Digitisation is not just about technology, however. Even access to the best tech doesn’t ensure digital success. More traditional companies must have the right mix of talent to lead and execute a successful transformation.

They must combine internal talent determined to be “digitally ready” with select, externally recruited, “born digital” talent from pure-play Web 2.0 or “internet of things” organisations, or from traditional companies more advanced in digital strategies. As Korn Ferry sees in its work with clients, companies that closely align their talent and business strategies are more likely to perform better, achieve desired objectives, and retain highly engaged, high-performing talent. A successful business strategy for a digital transformation, therefore, requires a comprehensive Digitisation talent strategy to complete the mission.

Talent scarcity

But there’s a big hurdle: Highly experienced digital talent, now capable of leading a transformation or possessing the traits and aptitudes to be digitally ready in the near future, is scarce, and it’s in skyhigh demand. Leaders with “digital” or “online” in their title are currently hot commodities.

Compounding the problem: Leaders likely to succeed in driving a digital transformation in a traditional organisation may carry a markedly different profile from those who typically thrive in a pure-play, born-digital organisation. As Korn Ferry research shows, born-digital executives may be more likely to rise through the expert ranks of pure-play digital firms; they often are narrowly focused in one crucial area.

Executives who are digital natives often hold roles that call for deep expertise and are more singularly focused (they dive deep into one project). They differ, too, in their competencies, traits, and drivers. They tend to be motivated by structure and prefer narrowly defined or single-focus roles requiring depth and specialized knowledge skills, clear objectives, and a higher degree of detail orientation and predictability.

In contrast, executives who succeed in traditional companies tend to be broad based in their experiences and skills, including knowing how to read people and motivate teams. They tend to be savvier in influencing others, rely more on lateral influence in their roles, and are far more social and empathetic than are digital executives. As this comparison shows, digital success is not a “one-size-fits-all” talent proposition.

This paper shows how digitisation initiatives must be paired with a comprehensive talent strategy that looks at all aspects of the transformation. Companies must identify digitally ready, in-house talent (some found in surprising places) capable of taking active roles in the transformation.

 Download: Leaders for a digital transformation


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About the contributor

Cynthia Cottrell is a Senior Client Partner within Korn Ferry's Organization Strategy practice. With over 20 years of experience, she works closely with clients to deliver business transformation by effectively ensuring alignment between customer needs, business strategy, operations, and organisation.

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