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Digital transformation? Hire this profile.



Recruiting for digital transformation is notoriously hard. In his excellent book: ‘Why Digital Transformations Fail’, Tony Saldanha, a 27-year ex-Procter & Gamble senior executive defined digital transformation as “the rewiring of enterprises and people to succeed in the 4th industrial revolution’’.

We’re going through the 4th industrial revolution now: it’s the blurring of boundaries between the physical and digital worlds, combining technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics and the Internet of Things, to name just a few.

I like Saldanha’s definition as much for its simplicity but if you asked 10 senior executives what digital transformation meant to them, you might get 10 different answers. What would be a common theme, however, is the difficulty pulling off and recruiting for digital transformation.

But it starts with recruiting the right leader and in this article, we’ll give you five tips on how:

1. Be clear on precisely what you’re looking to hire

Recruiting for digital transformation is not straightforward. Companies should start the process by deciding where you are at in your digital transformation. This might be a division or a specific process that you’re looking to transform but, irrespective, breaking down a digital leader into one of these three categories will help determine the profile you’re after

Strategist – this is the blue sky thinker who has a great vision. She or he might well be the pivotal leader who can develop the new business model to compete in the future. They’re also most likely to be the individual to inspire and lead any transformation.

Technical – a technical digital leader will prepare the foundations on which the strategy can be built. She or he may not be equipped to develop a new model or lead a transformation but they will offer peace of mind that the technology is robust.

Commercial – in an interview setting this is what most of our clients want to see and hear. Someone that can work well with commercial functions and is focused on the financial upside to support strategic growth at all times. But in the context of a digital transformation, (1) and (2) will precede this.

2. Can your digital leader provide evidence of creating a simple digital vision?

Some of the most impressive business leaders I have ever encountered are the ones who can explain something that is actually quite complex into really simple language. Great politicians can also do this as JFK demonstrated with ‘landing a man on the moon’ vision. The whole of the US got behind that because Kennedy explained what was an incredibly technical mission into very simple language that any American could grasp. Get your employees on the bus, or in this case the space rocket, and you increase your chances of successful digital transformation exponentially.

3. Does the person have strong influencing skills?

I have heard so many examples of unsuccessful digital transformations. Indeed, Tony Saldanha estimates that 70% of them fail. Have you ever paused to think about how much this costs companies? If I was to highlight a common reason from the client feedback I have received, it would be not bringing the whole organisation on the journey. This starts with my earlier point about creating a simple vision but then it boils down to influencing skills and a digital leader’s ability to relate to others not like them. The larger your organisation, the more challenging this becomes and the easier it is for change programmes to lose momentum and fizzle out.

4. Can she or he appoint the right people around them?

You’ve hired your executive to lead the digital transformation. Now what? The success of that leader is heavily dependent on who they appoint around them. It’s no different to a CEO, their success is almost entirely contingent on the C-suite they recruit (or promote) to support them. Not only is it a case of knowing what to hire but it’s also about having the skills and ability to convince them to join.

5. Cultural fit is more imperative than ever

We’ve all worked with people that have been cultural misfits. The digital world is no exception. For example digital natives may be less adept at working in the more defined structures and processes of a digitally maturing company and be less patient dealing with some companies’ legacy technology issues. That doesn’t define them as any less capable a manager but simply refocuses us on the importance of cultural fit for effective leadership and bringing about digital transformation.


This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list and further considerations such as whether to recruit an interim executive for your digital transformation must also be tackled. It is, however, a reminder that hiring the right digital leader can be a complex, costly and time-consuming task.


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About BartonRock: We are the executive search partner for companies where data-driven digital leadership is intrinsic to growth.

We manage the careers of leaders whose know-how and commercial acumen within digital steers the strategic direction and future survival of companies.

Our assignments search for executives who understand how to implement and lead data-centric digital agendas.


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