Talent and Transformation

The role of executive search in the digital revolution.

Telecommunications in the APAC region is changing. Here, Paul Clayson, RP International’s Head of Executive Search, APAC, explains how executive search is playing an increasingly important role as operators embrace digital transformation.

The current rate of innovation is unprecedented – especially in the telecoms space. How is that effecting executive search?

The market has been changing for a few years now, as the telecommunications industry faces disruption and pressure from other players. Revenue from voice and SMS services has dwindled, and the focus has moved to data, value added services and other new revenue streams (such as payments, mcommerce, analytics, advertising etc.). With this change comes the need to hire new people with different skills.

Where once we’d source someone from one telco and place them with another, for a while now we have been looking to other industries to bring in the right talent and diversify revenue streams. If, for instance, a telecoms client is launching a mobile payments service, we’d look to the likes of the big global payments companies to bring in that experience.

What are the biggest talent trends to emerge in recent years?

Transformation has been a buzzword for a while now. Many companies are still going through huge transformations, but most are still focusing their efforts on digital as a commercial, or marketing, or omnichannel strategy. To achieve real digital transformation, the impact should be felt across the entire business – from procurement and supply chain to HR and everything else in between.

As there are so many aspects to digital transformation, it can be difficult for our clients to source someone at leadership level: an individual who understands the technology but can also drive and influence change. This is especially important when there is some cultural resistance to change within the business. Similar to a number of executive roles, strong stakeholder management is imperative to success.

How is executive search supporting your clients through their digital transformation?

Our role is now more about understanding the client’s business challenges, and how they can address those challenges through people. We’re spending more time with our clients at the start of the process, to understand exactly what they want to achieve.

Often, we create the job description alongside the client, rather than simply taking a brief. We then use our well-established network and the very strong researchers on our team to fully understand those emerging positions and relate this back to the client.

It’s also important to remember that it’s not just finding the right skills that is important, but where those skills need to be placed in the hierarchy of the company.

Is that becoming a more prominent part of executive search?

In such a rapidly changing market, yes, organisational design is crucial. Where a new position is placed in the business structure can make all the difference to its success.

When the term Chief Data Officer was first coined in the US, what was that role? Was that person looking after governance? Regulatory issues? Or was it focusing on business issues, insight, strategy? They are all very different objectives, so businesses had to think about what they wanted that role to achieve and subsequently who that person should report to. Originally, it would be the CTO, but the role wasn’t limited to technology: it filtered through virtually every part of the business. CDOs have eventually shifted to report to the CEO and work closely with the CMO or CCO and CTO/CIO as it is really about creating new revenue streams and making better business decisions through data.

The APAC region is now experiencing that challenge. Deciding where to place such a broad role as CDO – and making sure it is successful – means understanding their expectations before they make a hire. We advise clients to get peers and stakeholders involved in the recruitment process, to sense check how the role will work, how it will interact with the board and the level of leadership and authority it needs.

Have you found that your more established corporate clients have had to adapt in order to attract talent from disruptive, innovative new businesses?

Very much so. Working environments in the telecommunications space have changed massively. It’s been driven out of a desire to attract the kind of talent that they need to innovate. The kind of companies that are growing this new talent tend to have a ‘new age’ way of working, with remote working, flexible working, benefit schemes – some Silicon Valley players even offer unlimited annual leave.

What’s important to the younger workforce is very different to what was expected from an employer 10 or 20 years ago. Pension, for example, is not as important as it once was, while life-work balance, ability to travel, and personal and professional development, are all vital. In order to entice these workers and build on their innovative new offerings, clients have had to adapt – and it’s not always easy.

Is resistance to change still an issue when it comes to successful digital transformation?

Telecoms operators have been around for a long time, and long-term employees can have a fixed mindset. When there is an influx of innovative, creative new talent, bringing in fresh ideas and new ways of working, it can be difficult to integrate the two cultures. It is a challenge for HR, but it goes back to that key point: you need to have the right talent, in the right organisational structure. With everyone working together, the best people in place and strong sponsorship at a leadership level down, successful transformation is possible.

It’s time to think of your Executive Search provider as a trusted business partner, not just a way to find candidates. At RPI, we take a strategic approach to resourcing talent for transformation, incorporating our experience to offer you in-depth advice. To find out more, contact RPI