A mindset, not a technology, by Starcom’s Ralph Adaimy

Digital transformation is less about the software and hardware, and more about the talent an agency has at its disposal, says Starcom KSA’s associate business director, Ralph Adaimy. The challenge is building the right workforce.

This article will most probably be posted online for you to read. But roll back the calendar 15 years, if your age permits – and if not, you can just read another electronic article about the impact printed magazines had on brands at the time. This is an absolute embodiment of a digital transformation that went through numerous and radical changes to become what it is today. Changes spanning infrastructures that enabled disruptive technologies to bloom, or even shifts in demand to certain types of jobs, which in turn led to shifts in university programmes and curriculums.

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The most important, radical change, however, that is the backbone of this transformation is mindset; consumers, brands, leadership teams, service providers, agencies and every other stakeholder along this chain had to adopt a transformational mindset to support it.

Although the optic used to depict the above transformation is somehow generic, brands can be trained to incrementally inject the right mindset into tech investments, harnessing data, retaining talent and eventually nurturing a Silicon Valley culture that can adapt to change as the shift into digital transformation matures.

Digital transformation does not start with you becoming a tech pioneer in your industry, but rather with having a foundational awareness of technology and the possibilities it opens up, coupled with a willingness to pursue new opportunities based on that awareness. This builds up the first interpretation of how mindset constitutes a key pillar in transformations. Technology starts by decreasing the cost of doing business, which in turn unlocks opportunities in infrastructure investments, and together with other liberalisation efforts gives birth to global chains across geographies. This change does not necessarily have to be accompanied by a human-resource cost burden, as the transition from a start-up to a giant is now feasible with a few exceptional talents and some tangible assets. Technology will continue to evolve and support change; however, talent is the entity that will lead this change – and it needs to be talent that can most adapt to and embrace change.

This brings up the next challenge, which is injecting the right transformational mindset into talent acquisition and retention. We will take a step back to shed some light on two categories of talent that constitute a critical success factor for transformations.

When a brand kicks off its digital transformation process, it needs to realise it is on the verge of giving birth to a completely new entity, and it will now have to take care of and nurture two businesses with relatively diverse objectives. The first one is the core business – that used to be the bread and butter – and the second one is the new-born digital entity. This is where the leadership team mindset can make a difference through envisioning a strategy to acquire and retain talent that can take care of the core business as well as foster the interactions between the core and new digital business. This talent should have an agile mindset that is lean and adaptable to change, as change will become the new normal.

Campaigning about digital transformation without a bold data statement for marketers is like pineapple on pizza for Italians; it doesn’t make sense.

It was in the recent past when the perceptions around data revolved around it being a cost-centre and storage burden. Today, data is perceived as the currency of a digital transformation; at least for brands that have successfully nurtured a data-friendly culture.

In a marketing context, data piles are turned into insights that improve prospect targeting. In HR they can be used to screen and identify the right talent; in production they can be used to streamline time and resources. The attitude correlated with any of this success is the one that uninterruptedly works to harness data, structure it and make it accessible. While structure and accessibility can be highly dependent on technology, harnessing data is more a mindset than a technology. Successful digital transformations start with cultivating a culture that drives talent to keep thinking of what additional data needs to be harnessed as the business progresses. The ultimate goal is to have a data-driven workforce, and building this workforce, although a difficult task, will produce the highest long-term value for this transformation.

Silicon Valley is famous for being home to the world’s largest innovators and disruptors – alongside top-ranked educational institutions, abundant venture capital and an extra competitive yet collaborative culture that celebrates risk and failure. The virtues of a Silicon Valley culture revolve around three pillars: being a curious, lean, and adaptable organisation.

It has become a necessity for organisations to empower the workforce to become innovation hubs in every discipline and hold it accountable for the role, switch to a more agile set-up that tolerates adaptive learning, integrate data in every form and from every source, and instil a curiosity culture that is well fed by clearly communicating why the organisation must transform (be it responding to emerging competition, changing consumer preferences or even playing catch-up before the digital transformation train kicks off and leaves the organisation behind).