5 Tips to Hiring Your First Digital Leader

5 Tips to Hiring Your First Digital Leader

(Part 2 of 2) In part one of this article I looked at how to quickly gauge the digital sophistication of your business and when you should consider hiring a digital leader. In part two, let’s look at the 5 Tips for hiring your first digital leader.

You’ve decided you need to have digital leadership in your company that can truly focus on your business, your company goals, and work with your senior team to develop a plan. You want to yield real return on your investments and you want to tap into the digital and social marketplace to promote, sell, and support your products and services. The challenge is you do not have deep digital experience in your company, so how do you determine the right candidate for the job?


Influence: Determine Level Influence Required

As with adding any leader to an organization, there will be a varying amount of change to follow; new opportunities, new collaboration, new processes, and new projects that may involve people from across your business. Gauge the pulse of your organization and your leadership team and be sure to define the level at which your new digital leader will need to operate at to receive buy-in from the leadership, their peers, and front-line personnel. If you’re considering a middle management role, will senior leaders buy in? Where will you situate the new digital leader in your structure? Will they be able to function across the company effectively and not just under the one area they are within?

Consider the following:

  • Digital is now much more than a marketing concern. Digital presents opportunities and challenges for Sales, HR, Product Development and Customer/Client Support
  • You will need to situate your digital leader in a position to collaborate across your organization so consider candidates who have experience working closely with different areas of a company with positive influence to help deliver results
  • Results achieved should stretch further than brand exposure including generating social sales leads, innovating digital commerce, improving customer support metrics, uncovering product & service development research, and building an actively engaging employer brand & database
  • Probe your candidate on their ability to build bridges and bring people together while communicating and managing through change and insist on examples


Experience: Equate Digital Accomplishments to Business Outcomes

The best indicator of the future is the past, and this applies to a digital leader’s past and future accomplishments. A candidate for digital leadership may tell you they led a company’s re-development of their online presence, developed a social strategy to engage customers, and have improved the company’s ability to sell its products online. The specifics of these initiatives may be foreign to you; however the business outcomes are far more telling. Ask your candidate to describe the parallels between their previous position/company/industry to the one you’re hiring for. Probe into your candidate’s direct impact on sales where digital specifically played a role and efficiencies were created by employing digital tactics and strategies. Focus on incremental non-digital returns and benefits of digital initiatives. A strong digital leader will have the ability to translate their digital goals into the effect they had on the bottom line.

Consider the following:
Probe into the candidate’s view on digital budgets, how they are established, and how they are used. Are they someone who expects large capital investment on hardware and technology? Do they prefer technology that requires licensing fees? Have they employed specific solutions to reduce costs and increase efficiency? Understanding the candidate’s philosophy on fiscal expenditures related to technology and vendors will be a good indicator of fit.


Skill: Connect Skills to Perspective & Leadership Capability

This can be a difficult area to discern for non-digital leaders. Seeking advice will always help here (see tip #5) however you can uncover leadership perspective by focusing in on a digital leader’s core skillset and discussing how they leverage their particular skillset in a digital leadership role. For example, a digital leader with extensive technical background as a programmer, database administrator or information systems professional may approach digital from a “nuts and bolts” perspective focusing more on the “how” to get things done versus “why” particular initiatives are more strategically important. A candidate with a creative background may approach digital from the perspective of “what” the brand looks like and “who” the customer/client experience is tailored for.

Consider the following:

  • Ask about how much interaction and collaboration the candidate has had with senior leaders on topics of core business objectives
  • Discuss the number of direct reports and structure of previous teams the digital leader has been responsible for
  • If you are looking for a leader to build a team at some point down the road or take on existing junior resources, you will want to carefully consider their team leadership capabilities and mentorship style around creative and technical positions alike
  • To gauge a candidate’s true digital interest in the role and the coherence of their insight, ask the candidate their impression of your current digital footprint. If the candidate has come prepared, they will have taken time to view your website and search out all of your social media platforms and presence and be able to give a topline impression of what you’re doing and how it compares to similar operations in the industry


Activity: Look at their Social Footprint

Most digital natives will have a robust social media presence (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest etc.) and they may have a blog or contribute to digital publications. Review their online contributions and content and get a feel for their writing and the persona they are actively building. Are they a thought leader in a particular aspect of digital or social media? Do they actively contribute to dialog related to topics that could benefit your company? Are they a thought leader?

Consider the following:

  • More senior digital leaders may not appear to have a very large social media presence, and this can be in part due to their large mandates, privacy settings, or company policies which control social content of senior executives
  • Many senior digital executives however speak attend and speak on panels at conferences within their company’s industry, and within digital circles. You may be able to Google the candidate and find out about past panels and conferences where the individual was featured


Advice: Retain Third Party Expertise to Assist in the Evaluation

Digging down deep and really separating the buzzwords from a person’s true capabilities and proficiencies can only be achieved with the assistance of a consultant if you are not an experienced digital leader yourself. Leverage an outside expert in digital hiring to give you a detailed perspective on capabilities, risks, and areas to probe further then apply tips 1 through 4 in your own interviewing process. Make good notes or audio record the interview, and then go back to your consultant with any questions afterwards.

Consider the following:

  • Strong candidates will understand who their audience and will avoid using acronyms
  • Strong digital leader candidates will bridge the gap between digital and business and be able to interpret digital outcomes into business terms
  • Former senior business leadership references are key in uncovering the true impacts of accomplishments and digital integration. Aim for a cross section of senior leaders and department leaders across a company and ask for examples of digital strategy spearheaded by the candidate that led to positive business impacts in their area

Success is in the Translation

While hiring digital leaders can be challenging, the key to a successful hire is ensuring your candidate can operate culturally within your organization to bring people together around digital opportunities and that they have the ability to translate their strategies and tactics into performance of your core business.

When to Hire Your First Digital Leader

How to Hire Your First Digital Leader

(Part 1 of 2) In this two-part article I’ll first look at how to take a quick gauge of where your organization is digitally, when the right time to hire a digital leader is, and in part two I’ll share 5 Tips to Hiring Your First Digital Leader.

Do You Have a Plan?

You would be hard-pressed to find an industry that has not been impacted by digital innovation. Everything from media, manufacturing, retail, banking, travel, real estate (you get the idea) has evolved in some way within the digital age. Digital has opened the doors of innovation and opportunity in almost every business sector; however intense periods of disruptive innovation can come at a cost. This change has been painful for many “traditional” industry segments where efficiency and automation has undercut many historically viable value-chains. Those who are “thinking digital” are future-proofing their business. Those who are not, are likely feeling the pinch from innovative competitors and non-traditional disruptors who are changing the game.

There’s been a relatively common adoption path taken by any business or organization “going digital”.

  1. Dabble With Who & What You Have
  2. Test, Measure, and Do What Works
  3. Develop a Customer-Centric Plan Aligned to Business Goals
  4. Innovate the Way Business is Done to Drive ROI

Even today, many small and medium-sized businesses tend to stall on the first step. This may sound familiar. The most digitally savvy person in the company (likely in Marketing) is given the responsibility to ensure the company is visible on the Internet and represented on Social Media platforms. It’s a way to say “we’re there” without investing too much time, energy, and budget.

Unless you have an unlimited budget to test and work through the failures to find success, attempting to establish a digital business footprint can be very expensive without a plan. There’s no secret to developing a plan, any plan created must align to core business goals or open up new opportunity that broadens those goals to be successful. Creating the right digital plan requires the knowledge of what digital integration and transformation can do to a business. This will not come from the marketing associate who oversees the token online presence.

When is the Right Time to Hire a Digital Leader?

For business owners and leaders who are not well-versed in digital and are unsure of the answer, look at your direct competitor’s websites, social platforms, online advertising and ask yourself if they own the conversation in your industry. Look at the number of followers on their social platforms, read the communication between their brand followers and company representatives. Are they supporting their customers by answering questions? Guiding customers to products and services? Engaging with your same target audiences in ways that you are not? Building relationships with clients and customers is all about spending time together, and if your competitors are spending more time than you are with your target audience, you’re already being left behind.

Are there new business models from new brands jumping into the fray and turning your industry on its head? Digitally native companies like Uber are changing the way we look at Taxis and Airbnb is disrupting the hotel industry. Who are the innovation players forcing change in your industry?

If you’re in the thick of it and are under siege by the market around you, you are definitely past due to ensure you have digital leadership embedded and speaking on behalf of your business success. If others around you are relatively quiet on the digital front, you have an opportunity to get ahead and set the bar for others to compete with you rather than playing catch-up. You could ask your agency to take care of your digital needs, but how well does your agency know your business? Are you really getting 100% dedicated resources on your work? Given digital is here to stay, how does this help your own company become more effective in a fundamental growth area for your business by abdicating the strategy to people outside the organization? Are you really getting your budget’s worth? Consider owning your strategy, and having digital leadership in-house to hold your agency to account for execution.

It’s never too late to hire a digital leader. A digital leader is someone who has the skills, experience, and cultural fit for your organization who can work with the senior leaders in the company to develop a digital strategy for the entire business and be held accountable to the plan’s execution.

For helpful tips in hiring digital leader, see the second part of this article:
5 Tips to Hiring Your First Digital Leader