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What kind of digital manager are you?

The fact that the digital economy creates new opportunities for organisations is nothing new. And the list of startups who have gained market share from established companies in the last decade is long. But digitalization also means new leadership styles evolve, and the growth of the digital economy places new demands on corporate executives.

In PA's global ‘Digital Barometer’ study, which surveyed over 800 respondents in predominantly senior positions, we can see the majority (80%) innovate using digital technologies to address new market segments with new products and services.

The study shows the organisations who have the strategic digital initiatives headed by the CEO have proved to be more successful than those initiatives run by marketing or IT. This is perhaps unsurprising given that digital initiatives such as automation cut across the organisation and are therefore dependent on cross-functional teams to break up silos. So what’s the solution? For the CEO to take on the role of Chief Digital Officer? No, the reality isn’t as simple as that.

Our study reveals only 39% of Nordic respondents (28% globally) believe their management is able to drive the digital agenda in the business. So how can you ‘create’ a digital leader that has the right mix of skills and mindset?

John Lewis, Burberry, Nike and GE are four international companies where digital solutions have been a key element to success. They all have a hierarchical leadership model with CEOs who take active responsibility for the company's digital development.

Some leaders are visionary, and can take on the task of convincing others to implement the necessary changes. John Lewis’ £1.5 billion in net revenues (33% of total revenue) began with the vision of CEO Andy Street. Using an omni channel concept, he has managed to compete with giants such as Amazon and eBay.

Mentoring is another way forward. Nike CEO Mike Parker, sought guidance and advice from Steve Jobs. A third possibility is to bring in a Chief Digital Officer who’ll be in charge of digitisation.

So what skills are needed to be a good leader in the digital economy? Our global People and Talent team has identified six characteristics that a digital leadership team collectively need to have to survive and develop in the digital economy.

• Visionary: very forward-looking and builds a broad and deep understanding of the digital future scenarios

• Creator: fearless in killing existing models and inspires others by doing things differently and taking huge risks

• Innovator: keeps abreast of new trends to invest in platforms that allow growth over time

• Data nerd: uses digital data and new skills to inform, predict and automate


• Optimiser: uses the benefits of innovation to ensure the governance model is adapted and modernised

• Agile general: appreciates an approach where risks are encouraged across the entire business – not just in IT

These characteristics should not be mistaken for roles or individuals. The former CEO of Burberry, Angela Ahrendts, who is now the Retail Senior Vice President of Apple, is well known for modernising the retailer. Angela personifies the ‘digital innovator’ who helped bring lasting innovation to the fashion industry. This included shortening the supply chain from the catwalk to the shop, creating shops with advanced digital customer experiences, creating customised offers to clearly define customer segments and, through marketing via social media, increased demand and growth in the company.

Karl-Johan Persson, CEO of H&M, is another great example. He is very interested in technology, is an investor in tech startups and very future-oriented. This has been a great help to his company now that H&M is entering into the digital arena with steadily growing e-commerce and a strong social media presence. On Instagram, H&M is one of the most followed brands after Nike and Victoria’s Secret.

Rob Mettler is a digital expert and Per Blom is a leadership and talent expert at PA Consulting Group






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