In the new digital world, you need new people in new seats on the bus

In Jim Collins’ seminal book, Good to Great, he makes a very compelling case that getting the right people in the right seats on the bus is more important than your business growth strategy. While that may seem counterintuitive, in the new digital world I think it makes perfect sense. Why? Because with the level of unprecedented disruption businesses across all industries are facing, companies need leaders who:

  • can deal with ambiguity
  • can make decisions without all the facts
  • can embrace rapid iteration
  • can lead cross-functional/cross enterprise teams
  • can privilege core over context
  • can balance short-term deliverables with long term goals

This is never more true than for the CIO and the senior IT leadership team. Any company trying to transform itself into a digital enterprise must be able to leverage new technologies (Social, Mobile, Cloud, Data Analytics, IoT) as an integral part of this effort. In fact, the CIO will often need to take the lead in communicating the company’s “digital value proposition” to internal stakeholders (business unit heads, product development, sales, marketing, finance, compliance and HR) and external stakeholders as well.

“Houston we have a problem”

For many companies, the current makeup of their technology resources are not aligned with the new skills and capabilities necessary to successfully drive digital transformation.  As the chart below illustrates, the vast majority of current IT resources are allocated to supporting the legacy functions in the left-hand column. While those systems of record still need to be maintained, it’s the new systems of engagement and systems of intelligence in the right-hand column that will drive digital transformation.

In the new digital world, to address this problem, companies need to recruit, develop and retain a whole new set of skills and capabilities that don’t currently exist within the IT organization. For example, companies must embrace an outside-in design thinking approach in order to deliver compelling and enduring customer experiences. That is very different from the traditional inside-out user interface design approach being deployed across most companies today. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an either-or problem it’s a both-and problem. There just has to be a major reweighting of resources to the right-hand side of the aisle.

Achieving Technology Leadership Competency

The other point to make here is that this is not exclusively an IT problem, this is a company-wide problem. IT cannot shoulder the full burden of digital transformation but rather must do it in collaboration with all the other key stakeholders across the enterprise and external partners if necessary. I wrote about this in an earlier blog and made the point that companies have to make all their senior leaders technology savvy and technology conversant.

As such, the CEO needs to take the lead and talk with the CIO and Head of HR about clearly defining the relevant skills and capabilities needed and then how to leverage workforce analytics to improve candidate quality and accelerate their recruitment. In some cases, this will entail identifying current employees who have the desire and aptitude to move into these new roles and with the proper training and development can succeed in them.

As a recent Forrester brief stated, “Access to talent and the ability to hire the right people at the right place will become a huge competitive differentiator.”

Where should we start?

Here are some ideas for how you can start getting your technology resources realigned to support your transformation to a digital enterprise:

  • Identify the relevant skills and capabilities your company will need to compete as a digital enterprise

    • Convert those new skills and capabilities into new job descriptions
  • Assess the current level of those skills and capabilities within your existing workforce

    • Identify any gaps that need to be addressed
  • Provide the necessary training and development tools to close those gaps
    • Reach out to VC firms and startup companies for best practices

For example, companies who want to move to the forefront as a digital enterprise will need:

  • Product managers who can clearly communicate the key customer touch points and how digital interaction will enhance them
  • Business analysts and data scientists who can extract critical insights from mountains of structured and unstructured data
  • User experience design experts and design-oriented content managers who can seamlessly and securely connect systems of engagement with systems of record
  • Development engineers who can exploit the time to value benefits of Agile, Lean or DevOps
  • Business leaders who are comfortable with launching a minimum viable product (MVP) and utilizing rapid iteration to make changes based on end user feedback

The path forward is pretty clear. CIOs and senior IT leaders who develop a comprehensive workforce plan will find, develop and keep the critical new skills needed to drive digital transformation. For those who don’t, they and their teams will be relegated to a caretaker role with little or no influence on the future competitive performance of their organizations.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at