The Digital Innovation Talent Shortage

The Digital Innovation Talent ShortageI was watching our Seattle Seahawks lose to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday and was surprised to see a series of television ads air during the game from GE, not touting how great their products are, but why GE is a great place for software developers to come work.

Each 30 second advertisement will have cost GE nearly $700,000, meaning that GE probably spent $2 million last Sunday. First I’ll share the ads and then I’ll share my thoughts on their significance.

All three advertisements are in this single video from ad agency BBDO:

  • Advertisement #1 (Parents’ reaction to Owen taking a developer job at GE)
  • Advertisement #2 (Fellow students’ reaction to Owen taking a job with GE)
  • Advertisement #3 (Friends’ reaction to Owen taking a developer job with GE)

All three ads highlight the gap between most people’s industrial age thinking and our new digital reality, and close with the tagline:

“The digital company. That’s also an industrial company.”

A year ago, together with Linda Bernardi, a Chief Innovation Officer at IBM, the two of us wrote about this very subject in our article for the world’s most popular innovation web site, Innovation Excellence:

You’re Either a Technology Business or You’re Out of Business

The sad truth is that most companies don’t realize this. GE, based on this ad campaign, obviously does. I won’t re-visit all of the points in the article, but instead I encourage you to read it, and for now I’ll focus on additional thoughts emerging since then. One thing I did after publishing this article with Linda, was ask the following question at my previous employer:

“Are we a technology company that happens to serve customers in the health insurance industry, or are we a health insurance company with an IT department?”

Does anyone want to guess what the majority of people answered?

The healthcare industry is undergoing a period of incredible change, but they are not the only ones. Technology is transforming market and customer expectations faster than executives and employees can transform their thinking. Customers expect more, they demand more, in every industry, and this is opening the door both for new entrants and for existing competitors to rearrange the market share picture, IF they take strategic actions focused on transforming into a more digital, more collaborative, more innovative organization. The questions every organization should be asking themselves include:

  1. How can we modify the architecture of our organization to cope with the increasing pace of change?
  2. How can we increase our organizational agility?
  3. How can we retain the talent we need to power a true digital transformation?
  4. How can we attract the talent we need to fill the gaps in our skills base to empower a successful digital transformation and to drive success in the marketplace as a social business?

I see GE’s ad campaign as the canary in the coal mine, an example of a large company awakening to one of the major challenges every organization faces in continuing to stay relevant (and profitable) in a rapidly changing, digital, always connected world.

The fact is that almost every organization needs more digital innovation talent…

And you know what?

There is a shortage…

Keeping up with the pace of technological change is hard enough. Conducting a digital transformation, and becoming a true social business is even harder, but INCREDIBLY important to your current and future success. The companies that realize this and commit to a coordinated digital transformation, embracing the fact that they are a technology company serving a particular industry and a certain set of customers will have a better chance of attracting the scarce talent they need to complete the work to emerge out the other side. And you MUST do this before every other company out there piles on and causes an incredibly bloody fight for the scarce digital innovation talent out there, and the market share that is at risk.

I will be writing more about how to increase your organizational agility and to achieve a successful digital transformation in the coming months in the run up to the publishing of my second book by Palgrave Macmillan on organizational change and the Change Planning Toolkit™.

Are you going to be like GE and admit that you need to change the way you think of yourself as an organization and change the perception potential employees have of you in the marketplace?

Are you ready to become a social business?

Do you have what you need to achieve a successful digital transformation?

Are you ready to admit that you need help getting there?

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