Are Company Executives Ready to Lead a Digital Transformation?

Digital leaders
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The Covid-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated technology adoption across all industries. According to one survey, 77% of CEOs reported that the pandemic sped up their companies’ digital transformation plans, and as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted in the early days of the crisis, “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” A study conducted by Twilio found that Covid-19 accelerated companies’ digital communications strategies by an average of six years.

Historically, success rates for digital transformation efforts are dismally low. Many organizations rush to boost headcount and budget, hiring teams of talented engineers, data scientists, and cybersecurity experts. In a 2021 survey, 92.2% of mainstream companies report that they continue to struggle with cultural challenges relating to organizational alignment, business processes, change management, communication, people skill sets, and resistance or lack of understanding to enable change. This represents an increase from an already high percentage of 80.9% of firms that named cultural challenges as the greatest impediment to success just four years ago.

This cultural resistance was not inevitable, but it was perhaps foreseeable. Nearly a decade ago in 2012, Eric Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee wrote in Harvard Business Review that Big Data would be a management revolution. So why, after nearly a decade of investment in data initiatives, are firms continuing to struggle in their efforts to become data-driven? One answer is that becoming data-driven takes time, focus, commitment, and persistence. Too many organizations minimize the effort or fail to correctly estimate the time which these kinds of wholesale business transformations require.

c-suite skills
Digital skills among C-suite roles

According to a Harvard Business Review article [1], long-held processes and norms for selecting top executives are notoriously slow to change. Financial literacy is a baseline qualification for any top executive; we need to think about technological and digital literacy in the same way. These capabilities that used to be nice-to-haves are now must-haves: Companies can’t afford to have an executive who might confuse discussions about the cloud with small talk about the weather.

The same study highlight, companies sought these skills across a wide variety of roles, suggesting that many had already filled key leadership roles with the right people ahead of the pandemic, but some job roles were neglected in the search for technological and digital expertise. Not surprisingly, 100% of the specs we analysed for chief information officers, chief marketing officers, and chief technology officers sought technological and/or digital skills. But fewer than a third of the specs for chief human resource officers and chief accounting officers mentioned these skills. Falling in between at 40-60% were searches for roles such as CEO, board director, and chief financial officer. The figure represents the different percentage of digital and technical skillsets for more than 100 C-suite roles analysed in the study.

Most companies focused on just a subset of job roles in their digital transformation efforts, indicating that many had not been taking a broad enough approach in revamping their talent strategy. Successfully navigating this digital acceleration requires a shift and expansion of responsibilities across all roles throughout the organization. When the right candidates don’t exist in-house, companies will need to turn to the external labour market. But they’ll need to prepare to pay a premium; individuals with tech and digital skills are in-demand by many companies. This trend also has implications for firms with longstanding strengths in technology, which may find themselves being raided for talent. Companies will need to take proactive steps to retain their top employees.

The pandemic has exposed the executives who were not up to the challenge of a rapid technological pivot. In some cases, it has become clear that the wrong leaders are in place, and the only thing standing in the way of replacement is the lack of a suitable successor. Once boards and top teams have time to search for new candidates and more candidates are unleashed into the external market after annual bonuses are disbursed, we will likely see tremendous amounts of turnover and a very turbulent environment that will highlight the chasm between the digitally savvy haves and the traditional have-nots.

Although tech and digital trends do not uniformly affect all jobs today, we believe it is only a matter of time before these skills become baseline qualifications across the board. Investing in these skills now will enhance your marketability and prepare you for the realities of our evolving business world.

In future posts, we will be continue writing about technology and business trends for enterprises. Furthermore, we recommend consulting the following literature to continue your digital transformation journey:

The objective of this blog is to provide a personal vision of how digital transformation trends will be impacting in our daily activities, businesses and lifestyle.

By Gerardo Beruvides twitterlinkedin2

Industry 4.0 and Smart-mobility expert, his research interest includes Industry 4.0, Smart-Maintenance, Process Optimization, Machine Learning, AI engineering and Cloud-based solutions.

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[1] https://hbr.org/2021/03/is-your-c-suite-equipped-to-lead-a-digital-transformation

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