THE TALENT REPORT: Andrew Walmsley on what the digerati have to do to climb the greasy pole

Andrew Walmsley: discusses climbing the digital career ladder
Andrew Walmsley: discusses climbing the digital career ladder

Digital specialists must grab the chance to secure more senior roles, Andrew Walmsley argues.

Driven by the digital revolution, the business cycle is faster, market friction reduced and competition opened up. Technology, meanwhile, has been placed front and centre in customer service.

We see this change all around in our interactions as marketers and customers, and its impact is no longer confined to the digital silo.

As technology has become a key driver of competitive advantage for companies, digital-native capabilities are moving from the periphery to the heart of the company.

Jerry Daniels, managing director of head-hunter Norman Broadbent, points to the many looking outside the conventional pool to bring in skills and experience from other sectors, often valuing multichannel and digital people along the way.

Ashley Highfield, ex-BBC future media and MSN, is to be chief executive of Johnston Press. Carolyn McCall, who took The Guardian multichannel in digital is now chief executive of easyJet, while Marks & Spencer, William Hill and Sainsbury's have taken on digital specialists as non-execs.

In the wider market, people with digital skills and experience have been in short supply for a while, with inevitable consequences for salaries.

Businesses with good digital people are fighting to keep them, and those without are fuelling wage inflation by overpaying for poor quality.

For businesses keen to step up their digital capability, there's a challenge. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king; and many substandard digital people have built careers pulling the wool over recruiters' eyes. So how can a non-digital manager get digital skills on board without falling victim to the smooth-talker?

Amanda Davie of Reform Digital has one answer. From its origins as a search-engine consultancy. Reform now helps companies structure for digital – determining which skills to outsource and which to develop in-house. Recruiting and training form a crucial part of this, and the consultancy provides practical guidance for navigating these challenges.

Nonetheless, as digital specialists find more senior roles within new organisational structures, Steve Hyde, chief executive of recruitment firm Hamblyn Selection believes they will need to develop the peripheral vision to understand digital in a broader business context.

Companies are working to weave technology skills throughout the business. It's an opportunity for many already in digital, but they'll have to climb out of their silo.

Andrew Walmsley is a digital pluralist


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