The Sea Change That Is Digital Transformation

April 8, 2016 – Few industries have not been affected by the digital revolution. Media and communications is obviously no exception. Today, recruiters specializing in finding leaders who can grasp the transformation and implement a smooth transition from the past to the future say these are the most sought after people on the planet.

In the following interview, search industry veteran Carrie Pryor, managing partner of Greenwich Harbor Partners, discusses the seismic digital shift taking place among industries. She reveals how some of her firm’s clients, like IBM Cloud Services, Sonic Drive-In and Keurig Green Mountain, are approaching their digital ‘people’ strategies. And, finally, she takes a look 10 years ahead – her predictions will surprise you.

Prior to forming her firm in 2010, Carrie held director and senior partner positions over an 18-year stretch with Ward Howell International, Spencer Stuart and Korn Ferry.

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Carrie, you spent nearly 20 years with some of the most recognized names in search: Ward Howell, Spencer Stuart and Korn Ferry. For the past six years you’ve run your own firm. What’s that shift been like and has the transition been worth it? 

Definitely! Boutiques, such as our firm, are well-positioned in today’s marketplace. We are able to give our clients great service, execute quickly in placing people in 60-90 days and have an adventure with our clients as we speak with interesting and motivated candidates. I personally enjoy all aspects of a search, from talking with potential candidates to negotiating employment agreements – and being at a small firm allows me the opportunity to work on all parts of an assignment. Many big firms are inwardly focused and caught up in who manages which account or who controls access to an industry leader. There is so much territorial infighting. We, like most boutiques, have minimal, if any, internal politics and our off-limits constraints are very contained so the candidate development task is much more enjoyable. The days of spending considerable time managing a huge team of researchers and associates are long gone. The gathering of information is almost instantaneous and that makes creating an overall strategy combined with execution so much easier when it is done in parallel. I remember calling companies and asking them to send their financial documents by snail mail! There has been a seismic shift in how the search firm process works and the competitive advantage of a big firm with a big internal infrastructure has largely disappeared.

There has been a digital transformation among major consumer facing brands. Expand on this shift and tell us what it means when searching for talent.

We have been active in the digital arena for over 20 years and our firm focuses on senior assignments for media and technology companies and during my career I have seen several cycles. The first cycle was when every company hired a digital person and treated them like an internal consultant. This person had very little impact or authority. The next phase was when a separate sales channel was created for digital. It was a standalone business that the traditional channel executives pushed into a corner. The current ‘digital transformation’ is focused on the premise that digital equals developing a one-to-one relationship with your customers across all media that you can measure. We have just completed work at multibillion dollar companies, including Sonic Drive-In and Keurig Green Mountain to find senior executives who will use e-commerce and customer insights to build their businesses. In general, we look for executives who have excelled in all stages of their career, including roles at old media or traditional companies. Quite often they have been working in digital roles buried in a company, such as someone who started their career in digital customer acquisition at a traditional publisher, and it is our role to find these people. We are also in the hunt for individuals who may have limited experience but who have made a significant impact. It’s our responsibility to find the obvious candidates and well as the hidden ones. People, no matter how senior they are, who have not kept pace with digital tools or platforms are not viable candidates for us.

You recently tapped Carrie Palin to join IBM Cloud Services as VP of marketing. Does she best represent the type of digital professional you now seek? 

Carrie Palin had a very successful career at Dell and was entertaining offers from multiple leading companies in technology. She was highly visible because in today’s information age, superior talent becomes very recognizable through publicly available profiles which show a continuous stream of promotions to various presentations at industry gatherings. Top talent will continue to be torn between 1) joining a large company where they can have a major impact across a broad swath of businesses, or 2) joining a high growth business that may end up dominating a more focused market segment. Carrie is a terrific example of a marketing professional who quickly adopted digital techniques and strategies to reach her customer base for her role in Global Enterprise Demand Generation. Dell has always been a leader in micro tailoring of logistics and they are the same in generating customer leads or customer acquisition. These types of skills are now a key component of any CMO’s tool kit. Carrie’s digital demand generation skills were what made her so attractive to IBM.

The term ‘digital’ oftentimes signals the need to hire younger professionals that understand new technologies and have adapted to them. Your thoughts?

We are age neutral on all of our assignments. Full stop. There was a cartoon floating around where the hiring manager says to his colleague that he would like a 25 year old with 20 years of experience. Sometimes when we are with clients I can completely relate to that cartoon! We like to break down each assignment into five to eight key elements and get our clients to agree to those criteria. If people have kept up with the latest technology no matter what function we are talking about and they can demonstrate a superior track record in getting things accomplished, they are viable candidates. Most of our assignments are fairly senior so interpersonal skills, team building, being a successful influencer and advisor is just as critical as digital skills. However, the knowledge of relevant software, social media and quantitative measurement are increasingly important across the board.

Looking ahead 10 years, what will be the most prominent shift in talent acquisition as it relates to the digital space? What shifts will recruiters have to make? 

Companies will all continue to develop and grow digital platforms whether it is reaching their customers, providing their services, supporting their manufacturing or handling their logistics. Talent acquisition will include both competing for talented digital people as well as using more digital tools to recruit people. Will you be able to send candidates on virtual reality tours of facilities and thereby save money on in-person visits? Will databases of potential candidates at both recruiting firms and corporations be so robust that they include multiple videos of candidates? Probably yes to both. Independent firms will need to play a greater consultative role as identifying specific people becomes a total commodity service. CEOs and their direct reports at all companies will have strong digital skills and will expect the same of their people. Within 10 years LinkedIn will have either increased its sophistication or will have been replaced by new tools and platforms. Many of the most senior people have opted out of LinkedIn and that trend will continue. In the future, successful recruiters will need to combine both industry expertise and understanding of the dynamics of a particular company and perhaps a specific division along with candidate assessment as they provide counsel to their clients.

Contributed by Christopher W. Hunt, Publisher, Hunt Scanlon Media and Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief, Hunt Scanlon Media

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