Caught on the cusp of the industrial and digital economies, the executive digital transitional is a unique executive group of a type not seen since the industrial revolution.
The notion of the digital transitional has been a part of the customer landscape since the early 2000’s but the term typically describes consumers and is used to identify the process of shifting from or combining, old and new (typically digital) methods of purchase. The term executive digital transitional however has a different emphasis. It is less related to a personal consumer behaviour and more related to a specific executive group who have found themselves caught between two significant cultural and economic eras. We coined the term specifically to describe a critical, largely invisible cohort of CEOs and business leaders.
What defines an executive digital transitional?
Part boomer, part Gen X, this group has certain characteristics that set them apart from those who have come before and after.
If you were born between 1955 and 1974 and didn’t make an early leap into the emerging digital sector, there is a good chance that you are part of this unique and largely hidden executive cohort.
Executive digital transitionals form the core of a generation of executives who built and led the thriving businesses and enterprises from which we all benefit. They are the custodians of 30 or more years of Australian corporate experience. However, in an accident of timing, this group just missed the cresting of the digital wave. They fall into the gap between the pre-digital executive and the digital native.
The significance of this gap has grown with the increasing prominence of digital in recent years resulting in specific and confronting challenges for this cohort.
The changing executive climate
While digital activities still operated on the periphery of the business and board interest was limited, it was OK to rely on the judgement and presentation skills of IT or Digital Managers.
However, as digital moved from the IT or marketing team to influence every part of the enterprise, this group of executives has been forced by circumstances to change their approach.
Executive digital transitionals now acknowledge that digital is centre stage, and that the expectations placed on CEO’s, senior executives and board members have changed as a result.
As the capital cost for digital investments increased, along with the expectations of staff, customers and the Board, expectations have shifted beyond a passive, arms-length understanding of the digital landscape.
Senior players at all levels are now expected to be hands-on – to have an active, practical understanding of the digital landscape and to architect the digital direction of their enterprise. CEOs are now expected to possess and demonstrate a high level of corporate digital fluency.
There is a growing awareness of this changing climate and executive digital transitionals are acutely aware of its increasing implications for their current and further advancement.
Drinking the Millenial coolade
However, executive digital transitionals seem especially prone to the rhetoric about “digital changing everything” and often express the view that the horse has bolted – that digital has simply run too far, too fast for them to catch up. Many appear to buy into the popularist view that digital is the exclusive realm of the young (the VCR reflex), and subsequently believe that a big picture understanding of the digital landscape cannot be learned.
Executive digital transitionals are in a difficult position. As the custodians of our commercial wisdom and experience they remain a significant and ongoing asset to Australian business. At the same time, they are often isolated and are under increasing pressure to bring a heightened level of corporate digital fluency to their roles. The transitionals we talk to feel unable to seek this kind of upskilling advice from their regular advisors or peers due to discomfort around the risk of professional exposure or positional compromise. As a result, they are unsure how and where to start.
The reality is that the corporate digital fluency expected by boards and staff can be learned and can potentially add a new digital string to the already formidable bows of this executive group. this group holds the corporate memory and experience of Australian business, and equipped with sufficient digital fluency, remains a formidable executive force.