Exploring your company’s digital DNA to find the right digital talent

Digital talent is a hot topic among retail CEOs today — primarily, where to find enough talent to develop the organization’s “digital DNA” at every level and in every area of the business. With digital talent within retail in short supply, we now have to proactively go further afield — whether in travel, finance, the tech industry or elsewhere — to identify and woo the digital experts our companies need to grow.

Following the earlier “Open Letter to Retail CEOs,” the Shop.org Think Tank group recently penned a companion piece: “Open Letter to Digital Professionals: Looking for your next career adventure? Step into digital retail.” In this new article, we explore why retail is vibrant, innovative, full of opportunities to directly impact the lives of potentially millions of customers, and moving quickly on technology investments and practices that want to rival those at well-known tech companies.

All well and good, so the question now is whether you’re ready for the very specific, pointed questions digital professionals will pose as they decide whether your company is where they should start the retail chapter of their careers. Before HR takes their first step, you should prepare to candidly answer questions that strike at the heart of your business strategy, including:

  • Where does ‘digital’ fit into your top three strategic initiatives for your company? Be crystal clear on why you need this talent and specifically how they will contribute to the growth of your company. Is digital one of your company’s explicit top three strategic initiatives? If not, you should likely re-think that, given the crucial role of digital touchpoints in customer interactions with your company — or re-examine why you think you need more digital talent in the first place.
  • What are your three greatest challenges in delivering a seamless experience for your customers? Do in-depth homework on your customers — how they shop with you, what their pain points are, why customers return (or not), what they expect from you. Then ask this same question of each area in the company — the varying perspectives on current obstacles they each see will provide rich food for thought, discussion and priority (re-)setting.
  • How do your customers use mobile devices in your stores – and how to invest to make that experience better? We have research on how consumers say they use mobile devices while in-store, but you should also ask your store associates directly and the customers themselves how and why they use mobile devices in-store. What are the gaps in your current offerings and what should your roadmap include?
  • How much, when and where are you investing in digital technology? What does your capital and expense budget look like this year, next year and beyond? Without adequate budget, any plan is a pipedream, and digital professionals will see that a mile away. Budget is where the rubber meets the road, and in digital retail, that bar is only rising: Kohl’s has invested $600 million in technology since 2013, while Nordstrom is investing $1.2 billion over the next five years
  • What is your company philosophy on failure? Hopefully you threw out the old mantra of “Failure is not an option” along with other vestiges of an old business model. Modern technology development depends heavily on rapid iteration: instead of massive multi-month (or multi-year) initiatives, development happens as an ongoing series of smaller developments that evolve quickly with the business. By design, we know that some (possibly many) of those iterations won’t work – but this process is designed for “fast failure” from which the team learns and quickly moves on to find a solution that ultimately does work.  
  • What is the one over-arching goal for everyone in the company — and how is that rewarded? Delivering a truly seamless experience to the customer depends on an organization that has moved culturally and financially away from divisions — of all kinds. Does everyone in your company have a common set of goals and measurements for all that they do? Do you reward employees based on those? Only once your measurements, strategic objectives and incentives are aligned universally is a seamless experience for the customer remotely possible.

Only you can answer these and other questions for your own company, of course. However, their nature suggests that you and your counterparts may well have some soul-searching to do long before HR sets forth on the mission to find that top flight digital talent you need. I encourage you read the “Open Letter to Digital Professionals” on the NRF website. 

Vicki Cantrell works with members of the Shop.org Think Tank and is senior vice president for communities at the National Retail Federation and executive director of NRF’s Shop.org division.


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