Digital Leadership 2021: Five Key Areas of Focus

- by Laura Walker, Consultant & Bridie Burnip, Senior Associate in Articles

Digital Leadership 2021: Five Key Areas of Focus

Following the acceleration of e-Commerce sales during the pandemic, Clarity spoke with several digital leaders about some key changes that have occurred within their businesses and the areas of focus today.

There was an overarchingly positive sentiment that, even those who have been on the backfoot in terms of digital transformation, have been forced into action and adapted to a new form of ’business as usual’.

COVID-19 has accelerated strategic initiatives already in the pipeline and whilst this unplanned speed of deployment has generated some operational bumps in the road, there is the consensus that those that have embraced change and responded quickly, will continue to go from strength to strength.

So what are the key areas of focus?

Embedding digital into the entire organisation

In the main, company success is now inextricably linked to the adoption of technology and digital and therefore, it is in the interest of all functions to play their part. The CFO unlocking investment in data science and analytics, the re-purposing of stores as fulfilment centres - gone are the days of digital as an add-on, and those that most effectively embed these modern day tactics within their organisation stand the best chance of success.

Digital

Cultivating ‘unicorn talent’

Kristof Neirynck, Chief Marketing Officer Global Brands at Walgreens Boots Alliance spoke with us about the need for emerging leaders to be a ‘unicorn with a skill set that combines creativity and commerciality.’ Marketing presents a fantastic example of a function that continues to transform and whilst traditional marketing methods remain important, it is now necessary to couple these with a truly digital first and data driven experience. With demand double to supply, finding talent that brings the best of both worlds remains a key challenge. As a result, Kristof encourages future leaders to broaden out and gain exposure to as many different specialisms within the marketing function as possible, including marketing technology implementation, analytics with responsibility for measurement and attribution, a creative role leading an inhouse studio, performance marketing, as well as more traditional brand management. This will improve their chance of reaching CMO level and beyond.

Modern leadership traits

We have heard from many leaders about the need for fast decision making and agility whilst managing remote teams during the pandemic and those who display modern leadership attributes have adapted most easily. There has been a move from traditional, top-down leadership towards an inclusive, collaborative and ‘servant’ leadership style. Covid-19 and the BLM movement have further accelerated that shift. Eve Henrikson, Online Director at Tesco, described the importance of actively listening, supporting and empowering teams to make a positive difference, focusing on ‘responsible leadership’ to benefit business and society at the same time.

Modern leadership

Data

The increased prominence of online sales channels brings with it far greater scrutiny - digital leaders have to ensure the effective use of data now more than ever. Whilst many have access to an abundance of customer data, it is fundamental to ensure that the right infrastructure is in place to draw synergies and use these findings effectively. Those who can generate meaningful insight and act at pace will lead the way and greater attention is being given to how data can improve operations moving forward. Even those that do not sell online have been taking advantage of data; Lidl for example, now described as a state-of-the-art retailer with strong data science and analytics capability, has started gathering insights from the extensive number of users it recruited to its Lidl Plus loyalty programme in only a couple of months.

Cohesive multi-channel proposition

Kenyatte Nelson, Chief Brand Officer at N Brown Group, feels that ‘the winners will be companies that truly understand the end-to-end customer lifecycle and how to optimise profitability.’ There is no one size fits all approach. Whether it is the opportunity that has been created for brands to capitalise on the surge in DTC sales, or for retailers to enhance final mile fulfilment using store networks - the more margin diluting headaches that can be avoided, whilst delivering a seamless customer experience seems to be the ‘holy grail’.

Overall, digital has certainly been placed in the spotlight during the last twelve months and as a result, the visibility of its leaders has been elevated internally. By continuing to disrupt their organisations and helping to achieve profitable and sustainable growth, they will certainly play a critical role in helping shape the overall business strategy moving forward.


Clarity is an International Board Advisory and Executive Search firm specialising in the Retail, Consumer, Hospitality and Leisure sectors.
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