Which Digital Skill Sets Are in High Demand?

Greg Sedlock, Spencer Stuart consultant

Greg is a consultant with Spencer Stuart in the Technology, Media & Telecommunications and Board practices. We catch up with him to understand current trends in director recruitment and the obstacles to age diversity in today’s boardrooms. This interview is part of our Next Gen Q&A Series.

Are you seeing young directors being recruited for their digital skill sets?

Yes, many boards are looking for a perspective from the vantage point of a disruptor—that is, growth stage companies that are prying into established industries and disrupting the incumbents. By definition these tend to be executives who are earlier in their career and may have only worked at growth companies; they often have a different vantage point than most established and tenured directors.

Specifically, what kind of digital skill sets?

We’ve noticed this “digital director” trend for nearly a decade. Early on, the skill set was one focused on the end customer. Directors who understood the effect mobile was having on the customer experience or the importance of reaching customers through new channels (e.g., social media) were the types of experience/skill sets that were coveted.

Today the mandate is much wider. As digital transformation moves beyond the customer experience through the entire enterprise, boards are looking for digital skill sets that encompass finance, HR, operations, supply chain, IT, etc. There is a much more holistic view of digital and transformation taking hold now.

Do you get the sense that boards know which specific skill sets they’re after? How often do you see their criteria evolve from the beginning of the search process to their selection of the candidate?

Boards tend to be pretty clear about their criteria at the start. The challenge is that it can take the form of multiple types of profiles—from executives who operate in the disruptor set of companies to those that are being disrupted and have gone through (or are going through) a digital transformation. Many boards want to find digital change agents who have seen a transformation within an incumbent from beginning to end. This can be in any industry from retail to media to financial services to health care. Boards value seeing multiple candidates before arriving at the solution as there is no one specific way to solve for what they are seeking.

What, in your experience, is the single biggest obstacle to age diversity in today’s boardrooms?

Boards being willing to thoughtfully onboard and mentor executives without prior board experience as first-time directors.

Any specific ideas on how onboarding can be improved?

Every board should have formal onboarding process with a feedback loop—that’s what makes it constructive. Socializing with other directors also needs to be more formalized. There needs to be a direct plan to get those personal relationships established. This becomes even more important when there’s a major age gap, as is often the case with Next Gen directors.

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