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Don't be dinosaurs

Published on Saturday, 28 Jun 2014
Catherine Zhu is a partner in Egon Zehnder's Hong Kong office.

Recently I spoke with the regional head of a large tech sector company. He had a dilemma: to tweet or not to tweet? Without a social media presence he might be seen as a dinosaur, yet he worried about the time and skills needed. So he hired a professional marketer, who now tweets for him daily.

Nice solution. But as this executive well knows, the digital transformation goes much deeper and is changing the way people interact and consume. In turn, there is demand for leaders able to use social media to boost customer service and engagement.

One way executives can hone digital leadership is to team up with smaller firms focused around online presence. Joint ventures and pilot projects can build in "reverse mentoring", transferring skills from the online firm to managers in the larger corporation.

Executives must focus leadership development on competencies that matter in the digital age. One, related to social media, is a deep understanding of the new generation of "digital native" consumers, and how their online experience shapes buying decisions.

Another competency is being able to connect seemingly unrelated trends to set up new business models. For example, a food service firm wanted to use mobile platforms and social media to reinvent its customer experience and grow sales. The chief marketing officer needed both analytical skills to harness big data and deep consumer insight.

Finally, digital leaders must be able to drive transformational change. They must implement new business models, develop and use new platforms, learn from errors, make decisions, and help staff upgrade skills.


Catherine Zhu is a partner in Egon Zehnder's Hong Kong office.

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