Digital transformation, and the war for talent

It’s the buzzword everyone’s talking about, but what is Digital Transformation, and what does it mean for your business?
At Digital People, digital transformation is a subject close to our hearts. As digital practitioners for almost two decades before becoming recruiters, we have first-hand experience of developing and executing digital transformation strategy for leading international blue chips, SMEs and start-ups.

For some, ‘transformation’ may be relatively simple – such as establishing a digital presence and getting the digital foundations in place. For others, it could mean re-platforming to provide greater levels of functionality for customers, or playing catch-up with new and disruptive market entrants, and the need to react rapidly to changing customer demands in order to protect market share.

For mature businesses reliant on traditional marketing channels such as direct mail, or used to selling through catalogues with hundreds of thousands of SKU’s in multiple languages, transformation can represent a wholesale change in the way a business takes its product or service to market. This can necessitate  the need to re-train or re-role internal teams with a ‘digital first’ focus and, in doing so, divesting or reducing reliance on expensive, less effective or less measurable media in favour of highly trackable digital channels that can accurately measure return on investment.

Ultimately, whatever the size of business and wherever it sits on the transformation scale, its about building a business growth strategy that will enable you to capitalise on, and take advantage of new opportunities created by emerging technologies or channels, to increase agility and efficiency, and to meet changing customer demands and expectations. The key questions to ask when forming your strategy are, is the product or service you sell changing? Is the way you sell your product or service changing? Or is it your business and its processes that needs to change?

Whichever way, there is no magic bullet when it comes to transformation, but those that fail to react to market conditions and refuse to embrace change, risk certain demise. Examples of successful businesses that no longer exist after their failure to transform include the much cited Blockbuster. I know everyone uses that example these days, I offer a real-world example of my own… I actually remember a senior stakeholder in a meeting about 12 years ago asking; “why do we need to spend all this money driving visitors from Google, when we already have a big yellow book?”.

The talent gap

The challenge for businesses competing online has never been greater. The consumer today has more choice about when, where and how they consume brand content than ever before – and this means companies need to be everywhere their customers are, all the time.

But aside from the budget required to compete with the big players, by far the biggest challenge for publishers in today’s ‘always on, always visible and always optimised’ Google mantra-world, is securing the talent with the right skills and experience, capable of managing these ever-evolving channels, new tech and ever-increasing marketing budgets.

A January 2016 government report, Digital Skills for the UK Economy, found that as demand for digital skills already outstrips supply, significant technological trends will continue to emerge. According to the World Economic Forum, new roles will emerge through breakthroughs in  fields such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3-D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, materials science, energy storage and quantum computing.

Add the implications of Brexit to the equation and demand for cyber security and data protection specialists increases significantly. Before a Brexit referendum was on the table, the government estimated that our digital market would grow at a rate of 5.4% by 2020, with an additional 1.4m digital workers required over five years to meet market demand.

Digital technologies are considered as a key driver in boosting innovation and productivity in the UK. The government believes “digital transformation can make every business in every sector more productive, wherever they are located”. Its research found that “small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) with a strong web presence, on average, grow more than twice as quickly as those with minimal or no presence, export twice as much, and create twice as many jobs”. And that’s just the basics.

Yet with a clear skills gap in the sector, an even greater challenge exists for candidates of digital transformation – finding talent that not only has the right ‘hard skills’ and experience, who understand what good Paid Search, SEO or e-Commerce looks like, but who also has the right ‘soft skills’ required to build relationships with key stakeholders. They need to be able to build effective business cases to secure buy-in from business sponsors and influence leadership – and perhaps most importantly, remain sensitive to those in the ‘old world’ who are naturally sceptical about the new order, and the fear of the unknown that digital can bring.

Digital transformation requires talent that can spearhead change, at the same time as winning hearts and minds and taking everyone on the journey with them – and in time turning the biggest digital cynics, into the biggest digital advocates. That’s real transformation.

“Our first impression was that Ed was highly experienced and he cared. He came to visit us personally before we got started and really spent a lot of time understanding our brief. As a matter of fact, he helped us reformulate the brief and recommended different roles that encapsulated all the qualities we were looking for. This was invaluable and helped us really define the roles while making them more desirable to candidates with the right experience.”

Case study

Market leading health and safety business, Arco, engaged with us to help build a team that could kick-start its digital transformation. Having invested heavily in infrastructure to support its digital ambition, this fourth generation, family-owned business knew it needed to evolve its offering to future-proof its position as the UK’s leading B2B supplier of safety equipment.

We worked collaboratively with the business to assess the existing team structure and identify key knowledge gaps and resources that it would require to achieve its long-term objective of transforming the business into an e-Commerce powerhouse.

After successfully filling Head of Digital Conversion and Head of Digital Acquisition positions, we began searching for a Head of e-Commerce who could take ownership of the online trading strategy, and ultimately lead Arco’s digital transformation.

Richard Martin, Arco’s Digital Director, explains what it was like to work with us.

Richard’s perspective

ARCO was founded in 1884 and employs around 1,700 people. With such a big team we’re constantly recruiting and have a number of vacancies live at any given time. We usually work with specialist recruiters and head hunters, or if it’s a lower level vacancy we opt for a local recruitment agent. We tend to steer clear of national agencies.

Recruitment isn’t my favourite job. Recruiters are pushy and don’t listen fully. They come to the conversation with preconceptions of what you’re looking for and a plan already formed for where they can fish for candidates. There’s no real understanding or collaboration.

We find it difficult to recruit senior and specialist roles across the business as we struggle to find good local people, or national people who are willing to move closer to us.

We started working with Digital People as a member of our HR team recommended Ed and had worked with Digital People previously.

Ed took the time to understand our business challenges and looked at our digital program. He gained valuable insight into what we’re trying to achieve and got under the skin of our market.

Initially we used Digital People to hire a Head of Digital Acquisition and a Head of Digital Conversion, and later a Head of e-Commerce. All were new roles to the business and we weren’t really sure what we were looking for.

Ed really demonstrated his expertise and sourced experienced and energetic individuals who we believed would make something happen. These roles were key for us as once in place we planned to build teams around them.

“The recruits are doing really well and got their feet under the table fast. They’re self-starters who required very little hand-holding and just got on with it, knowing what they had to do. They’ve integrated very well with their respective teams and they’re genuinely likeable people. The impact they’ve made has been immediate and I couldn’t be happier.”

Gareth’s perspective

Arco’s newly appointed Head of e-Commerce, Gareth Wray, shares his perspective:

“As someone who has worked in Digital and e-Commerce for almost 20 years, the emergence of so called niche digital recruiters has not escaped my attention.  My experience of them has been mixed and whilst most can recite the latest industry buzz words in an attempt to prove their credibility, few truly understand the industry and even fewer have worked within it.

Ed is different, he has real world digital experience. In working with Ed on my most recent assignment, I didn’t need offer him lengthy explanations of my digital accountabilities and achievements because he already had a thorough understanding of them, founded upon personal and relevant experience.

As a consequence, our interactions were invaluable and candid (one of which included an excellent rib-eye steak!) and resulted in my accepting a hugely exciting role in a very forward-thinking business.”

Looking for talent to spearhead digital change??

Wherever your business is on the digital journey, as recruiters ‘from the industry’ we have the expertise to help you find the talent with the right experience to transform your business.

Call us to find out more about our award winning digital executive search services.