Champions Of Digital

What makes a great digital leader?

We're a curious bunch at Inlight. A lot of those questions directed around one of the key roles we interact with, the fabled Head of Digital. In order to appease our curiosity, we decided to talk to people in the know, in this case asking digital leaders anything and everything from achieving senior management buy-in, to what they do on the weekend.

Here at Inlight, we’re an inquisitive bunch, we like to ask questions like…

‘Why can’t we all be astronauts?’

‘Is this a lunch meeting?’ or ‘who ate the last piece of cake?’

Jokes aside, we really did want some of our questions answered surrounding a role which we interact with on a daily basis, the fabled Head of Digital.

In order to appease our curiosity, we decided to talk to people in the know, in this case asking digital leaders anything and everything from achieving senior management buy-in, to what they do on the weekend.

And with that Champions of Digital was born!

Not only did we end up with two seasons worth of insightful podcasts, but we also have a wealth of practical information to draw on around digital in some of Australia’s biggest organisations.

The digital leaders we spoke to gave incredible insight into what a day in the life of their organisation looks like. They share experiences and strategies in the integration, implementation and representation of Digital in their respective companies and organisations.

A common theme amongst our interviewees was the view that the ‘Head of Digital’ role would not exist within five years. As digital permeates each and every business division it moves further away from being a discrete concept that needs to be explained and advocated, to becoming a mindset that is shared by all divisions within a company or organisation.

Read on for more insight from our Champions of Digital, or go listen to our podcast.

Why you should consider starting small.

It’s tempting for digital leaders to go in all guns blazing, tackling big organisational pain points with a comprehensive digital strategy. However, ‘Head of Digital’ is such a new position it’s often difficult to get these projects past the broader hierarchy of decision makers. It's easy to assume that everyone is a 'digital native' but in some organisations – things have been done in a certain why for a very long time, decision makers may resist your ideas at first.

Here’s where a bit of long term thinking and strategic decision making comes into play. There still isn't a great deal of precedent around which senior management can base decisions relating to digital transformation. It's still maturing. In order to build credibility as a division, one tactic being used by our guests is the careful selection of projects and problems to solve.

When we started creating our development capability, morphing ourselves into a product shop. One of the things I actively looked for were what were easy products/problems for us to solve that also had high visibility
Jithma Beneragama, Director Digital Engagement, Department of Premier and Cabinet

Slightly different yet similar points of view were expressed by interviewees who spoke of releasing small scale MVPs (minimum viable products) and gathering real-world feedback to play back to senior management. Both of these approaches allow senior management to draw on additional evidence when evaluating digital capabilities.

Collaborate when you need, it’s fun!

As the digital team matures and the projects grow in impact, it’s inevitable that other business units will have significant touch points on products and strategies. Herein lies a great opportunity to embrace the complexity of the project and collaborate with affected business divisions to clearly align on business agenda and strategy.

Taking the time to consult and participate in joint learning of a problem, ideation and decision making will serve to further integrate Digital as a company-wide mentality, rather than a siloed division.

‘The main challenges sometimes are making sure that you integrate your agenda in the overall business objectives and not drive a separate agenda...integration is paramount.’
- Christophe Eymery, previous Head of Digital and Media, L'Oréal Australia & New Zealand

Acronyms sound cool, but there's a time and a place.

Dan Pallotta wrote a great post titled ‘I Don’t Understand What Anyone Is Saying Anymore’ where he explores the notion that in pursuit in some sort of heightened sense of importance we’ve lost the ability to properly explain what we mean, riddling conversations with acronyms, abstract ideas and meaningless expressions.

Successful intra-company/organisation collaboration requires all parties to understand the what and why to a project in order to effectively contribute to its success. Sure, the digital team may understand the technical nitty gritty but that could be difficult for the people in your wider organisation or the executive team.

A number of our interviewees referenced their concerted efforts in the meeting room to avoid jargon and reported greater engagement and buy-in because of it!

‘We arrive talking a different language, we practice using different tools and we have different ways of working and breaking that down. Using non-jargon to explain why we're doing things the way we are doing them.’
- Andrew Wilkinson, General Manager, Digital Strategy & Product, Vicinity Centres

Bottom-up, Top-down…. Organisational wide?

‘Head of Digital’ for the vast majority of companies sits in the middle of the organisational hierarchy. Without senior level representation, digital needs to be advocated to achieve buy-in and more importantly, budget, to achieve business objectives.

In some companies, digital is represented at the senior level by a Chief Digital Officer or similar. This senior level representation allows for the Digital agenda to be driven for the top, easing difficulties with organisational wide buy-in.

‘We are in an organisation where the digital agenda is driven from the top and that helps a lot...we have a Global Chief Digital Officer who reports directly into our Global CEO, and she also sits on the Board of the company, which helps a lot to get an agenda driven from the top’
- Christophe Eymery, previous Head of Digital and Media at L'Oréal Australia & New Zealand

It’s all about the people

Jeremy Gupta, CTO at Carsguide put it best when he said:

“The biggest challenge in my role isn’t technology, it’s people.”

To succeed in digital you need buy-in from your people, to get that buy-in – a clear mission and vision have to be articulated. Integrating a continuous learning cycle and feedback loop into your work’s culture leads to an engaged, resilient and emotionally agile team. Which is all the better for the clients you work with and the business as a whole as you continue to scale.

Investing in your people is highly beneficial, and your business will reap the rewards where you will see your people come together and pull through when those late nights and tight deadlines hit.

Scaling at a rapid rate is something Jack Hyland, RMIT Online, knows well. Having grown his team from 15-75 members in just 12 months, one of the biggest challenges and opportunities the organisation is coming to grips with is continuously developing talent and capabilities of their people. With the skill set required of people in the workforce rapidly changing, how do you constantly attract, upskill and retain your people to take advantage of evolving and rapidly changing technologies.

Interested in learning more?

In Champions of Digital, we’re talking to some of the pioneers in the digital and technology landscape who are blazing a digital trail within their organisation.

Subscribe to the podcast now to hear conversations with digital leaders at Westpac, Jetstar, The Age, Medibank and many more.

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About the authors
Steph Bailey
Chief Commercial Officer
Steph Bailey | Chief Commercial Officer

Steph is a digital marketer with over 15 years digital experience. Steph works closely with all our wonderful clients, including Nando's, ahm, Swisse, Benetas and many others. A strategic thinker with a strong empathy for her client’s business objectives, Steph has excelled in leading multifunctional teams to achieve exceptional results on large-scale digital projects.

"One thing I'd tell my younger self is not to get caught up in the comparison trap! Run your own race."

Connect with Steph on LinkedIn

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver | CEO

Mark is the Inlight CEO with more than 18 years leading digital product initiatives, experience design and technical delivery across broadcast, sport, media, retail, finance and healthcare. He has a wealth of experience in the growth of high performing multi-functional technology and customer experience teams through strong collaborative cultural foundations.