Building Digital Skills For Executives

With the speed of digital transformation, companies are struggling to maintain a competitive advantage. Customer expectations are changing and business models are changing, and hiring the right executives or retraining existing executives is easier said than done.  A recent Heidrick & Struggles report looks at ways of building digital skills for executives.

As executives look to the future, they can easily identify where they have operational talent gaps. However addressing digital gaps is a bit more difficult and goes beyond understanding new software. The report calls out the need for a combination of leadership and organizational acumen, “…leaders need “digital dexterity.” It combines adaptive, strategic, innovative, and executional skills in a particular mix to support both the technological and human side of transformation.”

“Leading a digital transformation places particular stress on the senior team, because the pace of technological change is fast, the competitive pressure is typically high, and success requires skills that relatively few C-suite leaders have needed before.”

In looking at the data, the report found that companies who excelled in “META”, mobilize, execute, and transform with agility, outperformed their competition. These companies are some of the largest in the world and industry, geography, nor strategic focus impacted the results.


The first step in the process is to understand new and emerging technologies and the competitive set, both traditional and non traditional. Consider how mobile phone makers felt when Apple and Google first mentioned they were entering the market. They were dismissive and didn’t believe they would have a big impact on the market.

Taking the time to fully understand what is happening in your space will put a strong foundation in place for you to build on. This also means creating internal systems that encourage everyone to share what they are seeing. Often, those in the day to day operations see trends more quickly.


With the foundation in place, you can move on to creating solutions and aligning the company with your customer’s expectations. This is not a simple or easy process. The internal change management issues are difficult, not to mention actually bringing your new approach to market. The number one challenge mentioned in digital transformation is talent. The report stated that only 27% of small companies and 29% of large companies believe they have the right talent for digital transformation.

And this extends to executive teams as well. They also need the right capabilities and the vision to cultivate internally or hire the talent they are missing, such as designers, developers, and data scientists – or even a chief digital officer.


One of the hardest steps is to change the way you’ve always gone about your business to be more tech enabled. This means addressing business models, value creation methods, and in some cases, cannibalizing your existing revenue streams with newer, better solutions. The report makes note of a CB Insights study that fewer than half of companies have a formal innovation process.


Successfully navigating digital transformation requires getting the current culture out of the status quo. And this starts with you. You must be willing to reinvent yourself and your executive team and continue to learn. Whether you are training on new products, working with a coach, or taking executive development courses, your dedication will serve as a role model for the company.

“Leading digital transformation means being part of a team that can inspire the whole organization to accelerate, drive continuous and disruptive innovation, and redefine the customer experience. Although every senior leader must develop his or her own digital dexterity to be relevant, no one person can do it all. Just as business models and critical roles shift with acceleration, so does the mix of digital dexterity skills required. By cultivating their own digital dexterity and making it a priority for their teams to do the same, senior leaders can make themselves—and their organizations—more able to thrive in a digitally enabled world. Given the pace of technological disruption, there is no time to lose.”

To learn more about what it means to hire for digital transformation, and the skill sets you need to complement your team, send us a note.