Egon Zehnder
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CEO Search & Succession

Identifying the right potential

Identifying the Right Potential

Digital transformation is like a permanent revolution. It needs a CEO who can inspire both management and workforce with a clear vision – and managers at every level who can drive change forward independently and systematically.

While it’s true that new beginnings have a magic of their own, they are also challenging. In this case the beginning starts with an honest appraisal of the facts: How much digital expertise is available in the existing management team, and who can take on a leading role in the transformation? In many cases the specific potentials of individuals and teams will be unknown. Discovering them takes an effort – but this effort is well worthwhile, because without the support of these people, the smooth integration of new digital experts and the skilled reconfiguration of organizational structures will surely fail.

Identifying and nurturing potential is an art that organizations have been slow to embrace. Potential relates to aspects of a leader’s personality beyond the standard palette of track record and competencies, encompassing attributes such as curiosity, the ability to bring together insights from different areas (customer focus and change management, for example), to focus resolutely on specified goals and to motivate and inspire others to embrace a new direction.

New digital leaders and talents bring fresh air into an organization and strengthen the momentum for change. These driving forces can be placed and integrated in the organization in many different ways: They can be positioned within existing structures or they can be located outside them, reporting directly to the CEO, to allow them maximum entrepreneurial freedom from the start.

Demand for top digital talents generally outstrips supply. If it proves impossible to find the ideal candidate – with expertise in digital transformation plus many years’ experience – then any search should be prefaced by identifying the key competencies required and setting clear priorities: In many cases what is needed is not so much digital expertise as transformation expertise; in others cases, potential is more decisive than experience.

Top digital leaders are in demand – and they’re demanding, too. For them this isn’t just any old job: They want to shape the process and make things happen. In return they expect optimum conditions, flat hierarchies, opportunities to make a real difference, short decision paths and a tangible, visible commitment to change. Organizations therefore do well to engage intensively with these leaders' needs and with their digital DNA, so as to offer an attractive environment that allows them significant scope and freedom.


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