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Podcast: Leading a digital transformation.

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Digital transformation must be owned, inspired, and driven by leaders at the very top of the organization – then amplified down through the senior management tiers. Leaders are both the catalyst for the journey, and the glue that holds people together throughout change and organization transformation. They must design the journey, steer the business through it, and inspire the workforce to join in.

Press play to listen to the podcast. Duration: 14:45.

Hosted by Simon Constable, with speakers: 

 

Fiona Vickers

Managing Director executive search for Korn Ferry’s digital practice in EMEA

fiona.vickers@kornferry.com

Dennis Baltzley

Global Head of leadership development at Korn Ferry

dennis.baltzley@kornferry.com

Podcast transcript.


Simon Constable: I'm Simon Constable, contributor to the Wall Street Journal and Barrons. Welcome to our podcast series on digital transformation. This audio series offers advice and insights from a range of Korn Ferry experts on the topics we see as crucial for organizations to get right in order to successfully digitally transform. These topics include leading a digital transformation, culture change during a digital transformation, getting and keeping the right digital talent, getting the right workforce for the digital age, rewarding your people for the digital age. This podcast focuses on leading a digital transformation. Leadership is crucial to a successful digital transformation. Leaders must…

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Podcast transcript.

 

Simon Constable: I'm Simon Constable, contributor to the Wall Street Journal and Barrons. Welcome to our podcast series on digital transformation. This audio series offers advice and insights from a range of Korn Ferry experts on the topics we see as crucial for organizations to get right in order to successfully digitally transform. These topics include leading a digital transformation, culture change during a digital transformation, getting and keeping the right digital talent, getting the right workforce for the digital age, rewarding your people for the digital age. This podcast focuses on leading a digital transformation. Leadership is crucial to a successful digital transformation. Leaders must set the vision for the transformation, inspire their people to be part of it and drive the transformation through the organization. Today, we will be covering some key questions around who the right leaders are, plus the challenges they face when leading a digital transformation.

 

Today, our speakers are Fiona Vickers – she's the Managing Director for Korn Ferry's Executive Search digital practice in Europe, Middle East and Africa; and Dennis Baltzley, Global Head of Leadership Development at Korn Ferry Hay Group. Thank you both for joining us today.

 

Dennis Baltzley: Thanks Simon.

 

Fiona Vickers: It's good to be here.

 

Simon Constable: Fiona, let me start with you. Why should leaders be taking digital transformation seriously?

 

Fiona Vickers: Simon, I think it's recognized pretty much across every sector now that all businesses and all functions have been impacted by the advent of digital. Digital technology has provided both internal and external benefits, from new channels to market, the ability to get closer to your customer, data-data-data which informs decisions and enables businesses to move more quickly, new and added value services and products, and also the ability to transform internal processes and create efficiencies and cost savings. Digital transformation has a multitude of benefits, but equally it's created disintermediation, and I think by now, really, across every sector there is a recognition that a plan has to be made to take advantage of the benefits and deal with the challenges that arise from what's been going on.

 

Historically, i.e. in the last sort of seven years, the focus has been on the technology and the benefits from technology. I think what we're seeing now is the emphasis shifting a little to include the cultural and people and leadership aspects required to fundamentally effect a successful transformation. Dennis, what do you think?

 

Dennis Baltzley: Absolutely agree, absolutely agree, Fiona. Oftentimes we talk about this idea of VUCA, that the world's only gotten more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – and digital is the embodiment of the convergence that we all had heard about, about seven years ago, of technology, social, mobile; and it has accelerated change in ways that are just undeniable today. So it is an extraordinary issue today.

 

Fiona Vickers: I think also there is this understanding now that it's never going to go away and that change is the new black.

 

Simon Constable: Dennis, tell us more about that. Should people just like forget any idea of it ever being calm in a company?

 

Dennis Baltzley: Thanks Simon. That's exactly where I was going – to build on what Fiona said. There's a couple of things you'll hear from us in this talk and one is that the need to adapt and transform is now constant, and so the organizations and the leader's skill in these areas, and particularly agility, must be extraordinarily high. And then second, as Fiona said, every company is facing this, whether it's getting smarter about clients, the connectivity, the analytics or transforming their products and services. Everybody's facing some form of a digital transformation.

 

Simon Constable: We know leadership is very tricky in any organization and it's obviously becoming more tricky – how would you say that this [digital transformation] differs from things in the past [other business transformations], other than the speed that you mentioned and it being a complete constant?

 

Dennis Baltzley: I think there is an intersection of complexity and disruption and transparency that is creating a different feel for this digital disruption and the requirement for digital transformation, and there are all these elements, as Fiona said, of technology, the connectivity, but also the data, the analytics and the recognition of a need for some form of a digital strategy to make sense of it. And I think also, where in the past we might have said we aren't quite prepared for the transformation coming up, the digital transformation requires skills that the workforce simply doesn't have, in many regards.

 

Simon Constable: And the leader's job is presumably to help the workforce get the skills that they do need. Right?

 

Dennis Baltzley: It really puts a fine point on the buy or build question, but I'd love to hear your thoughts, Fiona.

 

Fiona Vickers: Yes, I mean I think one of the biggest challenges for organizations is that the dearth of talent in terms of people with experience of leading not only transformation but digital transformation is significant and global, and once those leaders are on board, their ability to recruit for their own organization in order to ensure the transformation is also very challenging because of this dearth of skills and skillsets available, and so there is often a need to look at developing the internal sort of digital-ready talent, i.e. those that have got some kind of significant learning agility, in order to have a kind of hybrid solution to this need to create an organization that, as a whole, you know, is digital ready and able to successfully go through a digital transformation.

 

Simon Constable: And Fiona, you're in the executive search business – do you see people recognizing that out in the field right now, what they need to recruit and the qualities they need to recruit, or is there a problem there as well?

 

Fiona Vickers: It's a very good question, Simon. I think that people are beginning to realize, large corporates are seeing that maybe the solution to their problems is not just to recruit from a Google or an Uber, because the success profile from those sorts of businesses don't necessarily translate despite the clear sort of digital experience into a more corporate environment and that a ‘going-digital’ environment has various issues around legacy systems, around stakeholder management, around the ability to make decisions around larger scale operations and therefore that, you know, you can't go out there and just try and recruit from these pure-play and ‘born digital’ organizations. You do actually have to find people with the right skillset, and hopefully as much digital transformation experience as possible, but that's not necessarily going to come from the digital world itself.

 

Simon Constable: Dennis, you've mentioned the so-called two-speed problem. Can you talk a little bit about the two-speed problem, in terms of leading a digital transformation?

 

Dennis Baltzley: Yes. If we think about the challenges that leaders face, a digital transformation casts in very sharp relief every company's two-speed problem, and the example that we were talking about is: if you look at GE or Philips Lighting, I'm going to describe their two-speed problem, but most people in organizations who listen in will be able to frame their own with this example. So, the first speed is: protect the core. And in their [Philips Lighting] case it is: how do you move from incandescent bulbs to LEDs as fast as possible? In fact, the challenge here for leaders is: get it right, faster. So, protect your core business, shift it as fast as you can. And there are elements of digital that are impacting that core. Now, here, leaders have to unlock discretionary effort. They have to inspire and motivate people to go after what they know as their core business that is transforming because of digital. But speed two is the real question, which is: they have to also solve problems that they have no experience in. And so in this example, how will these companies capture and monetize the data from the sensors in the light bulbs before somebody else does? Now, that's a pure digital problem, and the challenge here is not to use the speed one mindset and skills in problem solving and decision making, but to use a different set that requires rapid cycle time experimentation, fast and complete decision making – this is a world characterized more by exploration and letting go quickly of things that don't work. And to one of the points Fiona mentioned, it's also about integrating capabilities very different than you have today, and the friction that that creates.

 

So, both speed one and speed two are what every leader faces today. Each one has its own implications. But the speed two is kind of the one where companies are lost.

 

Simon Constable: And that gets back to something that Fiona was getting at, which was the digital native versus the people who are experiencing ‘going digital’. When you bring someone into a company, Fiona, where should they sit in the organization?

 

Fiona Vickers: Yes, I mean this is an absolute fundamental to whether digital transformation is going to work or not. I mean, clearly, you want the whole transformation to be driven and given the blessing from the Board and the CEO. But the person who's actually there to create the strategy and then execute it, I believe, should be (or we believe in Korn Ferry) should absolutely be at Executive Committee level and should be reporting, if possible, to the CEO or maybe to the COO and, generally speaking, needs to be given some kind of meat in a role in order to be able to not only just influence, but also have the authority to make things happen. I mean, there are three different sort of profiles of leaders in this space at the moment in the role of CDO. A number of sectors are heavily, heavily impacted by the benefits in terms of speed of decision making and understanding of their customer of data, and so the Chief Digital Officer and the Chief Data Officer, in terms of role, are beginning to combine in many sectors.

 

In some other sectors they are looking for people who are technologists, but who are also commercial and strategic and can sit at Board level and advise on the commercial strategy as well as running the IT strategy, and these sorts of people are the Holy Grail, and more and more of them are emerging and they will become CEOs. So, it's a kind of third type of individual, which is the commercial strategist, and that role might sit in isolation at the top as a strategic resource, but I think the empowerment and the ability to avoid the complexities of a matrix which sometimes means that not enough actually happens.

 

Simon Constable: Sorry, just let me jump in there – "avoid the matrix and give people the authority to do what needs to be done" – would you say that's fair?

 

Fiona Vickers: Yes, absolutely.

 

Simon Constable: And, Fiona, what advice would you give a leader embarking on this? Because, you know, we know everyone says they want to do this, but we also know that some haven't.

 

Fiona Vickers: Yes. I mean, I think there's a lot of advice, I think that understanding that the technology and the strategy are critical, however without the people, you won't make the transformation complete, is a fundamental learning which most people who have already begun the journey will have realized. Dennis, what would you think?

 

Dennis Baltzley: Oh, I think that's exactly right. So, I'd say three things. One: the future of leadership in this world is agility. So, check yours, and check your organization's. And we've got great tools on agility; there are others out there, but it is fundamental and central now. Second: make your ability to manage productive conflict and tension a core skill, because it will only mean more different kinds of people who are creating that kind of creative and productive tension you need to resolve some of these issues. And finally, you have to get outside the house. You have to talk to others who are on this journey. You have to spend time with those who are experimenting and figuring out the path forward. If you focus internally only, you'll just get woefully behind. And so I think in there are a set of shifting leadership capabilities.

 

Simon Constable: Thank you very much. We've been talking with Fiona Vickers. She is Managing Director for Korn Ferry's Executive Search digital practice in Europe, Middle East and Africa; and Dennis Baltzley, Global Head of Leadership Development at Korn Ferry Hay Group.

 

Thanks for listening to our podcast on Leading a Digital Transformation today. Please look out for the rest of the podcasts in this series. Goodbye from all.

COLLAPSE TRANSCRIPT

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