Digital transformation: 4 kinds of people crucial to success

Your digital transformation efforts will need people who can play four critical roles. Here’s how to identify, reward, and retain them
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Digital transformation is about more than the technology needed to create the transformation: In fact, the technology typically takes a back seat to the other capabilities needed to make your digital transformation a success. So with regard to building your team, you may need to think outside the box, moving beyond the typical IT talent pool and skillsets. Building out a team of people who can flex their technical muscles when needed but can also pivot to call upon their non-technical expertise will help your organization meet the growing digital demands of IT and the business.

My team as part of Red Hat’s IT organization is a perfect example of this. We are a conglomeration of technical and non-technical skills, all working together to help drive a next-generation IT experience. As the IT Strategy & Enablement department, we focus on the areas that enable the business of IT, which in turn helps accelerate our company’s strategy. We lead areas such as enterprise service management, IT branding and communications, technology business management, digital adoption, and change management - all of which require skills beyond the purely technical. Likewise, other areas of our IT team are expanding their reach, including roles such as digital solutions consultants, delivery managers, and process improvement/automation specialists.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of digital transformation. Get the digital transformation eBook:  Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

4 critical roles for digital transformation

So what should you be looking for, besides the requisite (and important) technical skill sets? Consider the kinds of people listed below - and don’t be afraid to bring people onto your team who don’t have a traditional IT career path. Folks who have not spent their whole career in IT can add some unique perspectives and take the team in directions not previously considered.

Consider how potential team members could play these roles in your organization:

1. Connectors

It goes without saying that the IT team of the 21st century must be able to work with its partners across the business. But looking for connectors means finding those people who not only are good with people but also can make connections across the organization.

Connectors know people as well as the work that is happening across the organization.

They are tuned in to what is happening, not only in IT but also in other areas of the business. They know people as well as the work that is happening across the organization. They know if an initiative in IT for the finance team is related to an initiative in another area of IT supporting the sales team - and they know the people to talk to in order to make the connections.

2. Challengers

Challengers are the people who help us ensure we are doing our best work. They think critically about the path forward and are not afraid to challenge the status quo. This is different from someone who always questions things and puts up roadblocks: Challengers think strategically about the path forward and ask the “what if” and “why not” questions that are critical to any transformation.

3. Agilists

While traditional agile methodologies are important in transformation activities, an Agilist in this context is someone who can adapt to changes and unexpected turns. By definition, transformation is “a thorough or dramatic change in form or appearance” - so successful digital transformation efforts must include people who can recognize the need to change direction and quickly pivot to the new plan. They model how to effectively respond to change and will help others adapt as well.

[ Read our related article: Does your change management plan cut it in the digital age? ]

4. Navigators

If we need to change course, navigators ensure we adjust our GPS settings to account for the re-routing across all aspects of the initiative.

Digital transformation by its very nature can be a bit chaotic and can veer into the tendency to chase the next “bright shiny object.” Navigators define the route and help keep the ship headed in the right direction; they remind us where we are trying to go and the path we agreed to take. And if we need to change course, they help us ensure we adjust our GPS settings to account for the re-routing across all aspects of the initiative.

How to retain digital transformation talent

Of course, digital transformation is not a one-and-done activity, so you want to cultivate these unique skills and ensure these team members are on board for the long haul. Here are four approaches that can help:

1. Intentionally make these types of skills and the value they bring part of your vision for IT.

As you define and refine your IT strategy, call out how you will prioritize these transformational aspects of your strategy alongside the technology aspects. For instance, does your strategy call out developing the next generation IT team?

2. Make sure your IT team has specific non-technical goals - and training.

What plans do you have in place to cultivate the non-technical skills related to those goals? Put your money where your mouth is and invest in building these skills with your team!

3. Within your digital transformation initiatives, call out specific actions related to the non-technical aspects.

Identify people on your project team to assign these specific responsibilities to and emphasize how important they are to its overall success.

4. Put these people on team leadership. 

As digital transformation evolves to a more sustainable digital leadership model, look for opportunities to put people with these skills in leadership roles on your team. These unique skills will set a new standard for what it means to be a transformational IT team member.

As the IT landscape continues to evolve, how we support and partner with the business will continue to evolve as well. Focusing on both technical and transformational skillsets in your IT team will set the stage for success today and in the future.

[ How can open source principles help with your transformation? Get the ebook: Digital transformation, the open source way. ]

Stephanie Welsh has been at Red Hat for over five years and is the Senior Director for IT Strategy and Enablement.  In this role, Stephanie leads a team focused on enabling the business of IT to accelerate Red Hat’s overall strategy.  Her team includes portfolio management, financial management, enterprise service management, enterprise digital adoption, change management, process improvement,