Start with a new space, furnish it with funky chairs, nontraditional work spaces and all the latest technologies. Recruit creative talent, mixed with some data scientists and wonder-tech folks, plus seasoned strategists. Bring in current clients and consult on digital transformation.
As companies implement this playbook, a couple of common themes and challenges are emerging, mostly around client selection, talent management and technology partner cooperation. (Look for future blog posts on all three of these.) We had the pleasure of meeting many of the leaders at these new digital transformation centers (in Miami, Dublin, Frankfurt, Dallas, New York City and more), and I noticed common traits among the people charged with running these new places: passionate, invested, visionary. Some places took a kind of “buddy cop” approach, pairing a creative with an executioner (in a good way, for both). Some bolted long-standing capabilities onto an acquisition. The real kicker: these centers need nonstandard leaders, even as the larger firm — the board that just invested $20 million in a new space and new talent — wants to ensure the investment pays off and puts a trusted, almost always longtime company professional in charge. And that makes leadership more critical than ever.
The best we’ve met (a highly subjective and personal assessment) echoed lessons I learned during my brief time in the U.S. Army and my long exposure to U.S. military culture: train everyone, especially the leaders, and train them for their next job; promote them when they’re ready and support them with more training as their responsibilities evolve. One center leader described to me how her company invested in her management skills, ensuring she could handle the diverse set of backgrounds, skills, expectations, and corporate cultural mindsets she would be leading at the new center. Longtime professionals who grew up within a firm might be able to manage teams mixed with experienced and new hires. But leading such a team requires skills not typically gained from serving only in one organization or growing professionally mostly through similar roles.
As much as I’ve enjoyed digging deeper into the substance behind the hype of these centers — the funky chairs and bleeding-edge tech and clients taking journeys to digital transformations — we still want to understand the business case, the strategies and the metrics that determine whether these substantial investments of money and brand are beginning to pay off. From what we can see to date, success still relies on what it always has: leadership and teamwork. Companies recognizing this lead the pack right now, especially as that pack becomes crowded with cloud, network and legacy IT vendors all looking to play in the digital transformation space.