Bernhard Raschke of Korn Ferry – Talent in the Digital Supply Chain Age (Part 1)

We mentioned the recent report The Supply Chain Digital Disruption - Its impact on executive talent from executive search and leadership experts Korn Ferry here recently.

The document was authored by Bernhard Raschke and his colleagues Paul Lambert and Tessa Waterman, and we got the chance to have a chat with Raschke and dig into the findings in more detail. Raschke spent many years as a senior procurement and supply chain consulting partner in firms such as AT Kearney and PWC, and he brings that broad and deep understanding of key strategic issues into his work with Korn Ferry now – he is one of the most stimulating people I know to talk to in our industry!

We were particularly interested in what digitisation means for procurement and supply chain people, their future careers and prospects in this rapidly changing world. So we started by asking him about the “born digital” and “going digital” definitions that are used in the report. What does that really mean?

“Across all industries—from consumer goods to health care, manufacturing to financial services— more companies are ‘going digital.’ The revolution of digitisation is fundamentally changing the way companies make and sell products as well as reach customers. If you look at the digital business perspective, the key point is the business model that underpins the organisation. Firms like eBay and Uber were born digital - founded on a digital model. They were built by ‘geeks’ - technical geniuses, with a vision of an asset-light, information-intensive business. They make money through being the ‘spider’ and controlling their web!

Other companies started in bricks and mortar and in the case of retailers for instance they are going digital - moving substantially into the digital world, this is both true for B2C and B2B businesses. But making that transformation is not easy. Supply chains are changing, for instance FMCG businesses who might have sold exclusively through distributors or retailers now look at direct-to-consumer sales.”

More traditional companies must have the right mix of talent to lead and execute a successful digital transformation. They must combine internal talent determined to be ‘digitally ready’ with select, externally recruited, ‘born-digital’ talent from pure-play Web 2.0 or ‘internet of things’ organisations, or from traditional companies more advanced in digital strategies.”

So what does this mean from a talent point of view?

“First of all, highly experienced digital talent, now capable of leading a transformation or possessing the traits and aptitudes to be digitally ready in the near future, is scarce, and it’s in sky-high demand. Leaders with ‘digital’ or ‘online’ in their title are currently hot commodities. But there is another compounding problem. Leaders likely to succeed in driving a digital transformation in a traditional organisation may carry a markedly different profile from those who typically thrive in a pure-play, born-digital organisation. As Korn Ferry research shows, born-digital executives may be more likely to rise through the expert ranks of pure-play digital firms; they often are narrowly focused in one crucial area. In contrast, executives who succeed in traditional companies tend to be broad-based in their experiences and skills, including knowing how to read people and motivate teams. As this comparison shows, digital success is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ talent proposition.

Executives who are digital natives often hold roles that call for deep expertise and are more singularly focused (they dive deep into one project). They differ, too, in their competencies, traits, and drivers (see Figure 1 in the report). They tend to be motivated by structure and prefer narrowly defined or single-focus roles requiring depth and specialised knowledge skills, clear objectives, and a higher degree of detail orientation and predictability. In comparison, executives in traditional companies tend to be savvier about influencing others, rely more on lateral influence in their roles, and are far more social and empathetic than are digital executives.

People who have worked in the born digital businesses tend to be more analytical and just naturally expect to work with data – that’s how they have always worked. People with a more traditional bricks-and-mortar background, even if the organisation is going digital, tend to be more rounded and better with soft and organisational skills.”

Is that just because of their experience in the organisation? Or are they fundamentally different types of people in those different businesses?  

“We tend to look at people in terms of four main areas – their skills, their experience (‘what gets you hired), and the ‘soft stuff’ - the drivers and traits (‘what gets you fired’).

And certain drivers and traits do tend to make people successful in the digital world, so we see those in people who have a born digital background.

However, this is not a question of the pure-play digital people being ‘better’ than others. For instance, we have found some people from that background are not necessarily skilled or motivated to handle the complexity of a business which needs digital transformation, like those bricks-and-mortar businesses that are becoming more digital. To succeed in that environment, you will generally need strong communication skills and some political savvy to get things done and drive change – as well as the technical skills and knowledge.

So the ‘Amazon or Google person’ moving into a Unilever doesn't always work out.”

And what about the other way round?

“Well, it works both ways - so Amazon are increasingly hiring for bricks-and-mortar skills but the personal traits in the individuals hired will still be vital. It’s fascinating to see how Amazon is testing for very deep analytical skills, the ability to make decisions based on data. A candidate who thinks spreadsheets are ‘below them’ will not stand a chance, they have to be good and willing to solve problems with data, this goes very deep into the culture of a digital business.”

So what is your key message?

“We encourage organisations to be very clear about what type of personality works for them – the type they have hired successfully and want to hire - and also look at their own people who can develop further in a digital world. Those who are open to learning and are curious can make the transition to digital.”

More in part 2 tomorrow from Raschke as we get into how anyone can become more attractive to ‘digital recruiters.’

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