Recruiting & Retaining Digital Talent

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As I work with clients on the digital transformation of their business, the topic of digital talent comes up regularly. I firmly believe that once a business has integrated digital tools and channels into their organisation, there won’t be a need for separate digital teams. They will always need experts on digital infrastructure such as Content Management Systems, Databases and specialisms such as SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) but the execution of digital marketing or sales should be done by the Marketing or Sales teams.

However a lot of businesses are a long way from that point at the moment. Their senior Marketing and Sales specialists learnt their craft at a time when the internet didn’t exist and so there is a job to be done to upskill them. This is where recruiting digital talent comes in. If you don’t have the skills internally then you need to look externally. It’s the right approach to take but I have several watch outs for you:

If you are not known for digital, it can be hard to attract talent

Digital experts are in a great position at the moment as there are not enough of them for the amount of roles that exist. All kinds of companies and industries are recruiting them, from pure play retailers to offline companies dragging themselves into the 21st century. It means that they can be choosy. So it’s important to look for the right kind of person. In larger more traditional organisations like FMCGs, it will not be as simple as joining the company and getting on with their work. There will be a lot of explaining, educating and justifying to be done to senior members of the organisation. This appeals to some people, they want to be part of a transformation, but others just want to be able to do their job and so will quickly get frustrated. Make sure you get the right person for your culture.

Beware of the blagger

Digital is an area that has grown very quickly and as it is such a sought after skill, you will find there are a lot of blaggers. The problem for companies who are recruiting digital talent to fill a void in their business, is that they don’t necessarily know enough to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. So much is written about digital, that it is quite easy to read up enough to sound like you know your stuff but the true test comes when you have to roll your sleeves up and actually deliver. Make sure you get concrete examples of things that they have achieved and get them to talk you through them in detail.

Digital experts are not necessarily expert teachers

Just because someone is brilliant at digital strategy or the execution of marketing campaigns through digital channels, doesn’t mean that they will be skilled at training other people in those areas. Some companies think that by recruiting digital talent, it will be enough to transfer knowledge to the wider business. And to a certain extent it will help you, as they will be pushing the digital agenda, but you will still need to get proper training courses for your marketing and sales people. It can become exhausting for the digital experts if they are expected to deliver work and train your workforce.

Don’t stop the learning

It’s also important to have a training and development programme in place for your digital experts. There is a danger otherwise that they will join your business, teach you everything they know and stagnate themselves. They need to keep learning too and to be attending industry conferences and events to stay at the cutting edge.

Career paths are different for digital

I often see large brands struggle to define a career path for digital experts. For over a hundred years the path for marketing and sales has been defined, especially in FMCGs, going from a junior in your specialism to a General Manager. Digital people don’t always want to become generalists. They have purposefully specialised and may want to stay that way. They know that that can make it hard to visualise the future as we don’t how things will evolve but that’s ok. Companies need to move away from seeing it as a sign of disloyalty if someone is only planning to work for them for a few years. As long as both parties get what they need from the relationship, it’s ok. In digital things move so quickly that it does no harm to get new blood in every few years to start rattling cages and bring a new perspective.

Promotion isn’t the only incentive

You may not have more senior roles that you can promote your digital experts into but there are other ways to incentivise and motivate them.  Perhaps you could make them a super user of a particular tool or channel so that they are recognised as the ‘go to’ person in your organisation.  Or create an official reverse mentoring programme in your business where they get to spend time with a senior member of the board to bring them up to speed on digital.  All of this looks great on their CV for the future.

You can also look at things in a different way, for example if you are a manufacturer of goods, could you set up exchange opportunities with the digital team at one of your retailers so that they get an opportunity to experience a different set of challenges?  Everyone wins in this kind of situation and it can really build strong relationships that will help the business.  Networks are so important these days and digital people tend to be even more aware of and focused on, building theirs due to their experience of the power of social media.

Kate Hamer Ltd consults with companies on their digital infrastructure, processes and ways of working, as well as offering training courses across a wide range of digital topics. For more information get in touch.

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