06/01/2018

In private companies’ search for digital talent, transparency is key

Authors: Saul Plener, National leader for PwC's Private Company Services, PwC Canada, and Penny Partridge, Chief Human Resources Officer, PwC Canada.

It’s an exciting time to be CEO of a private company, but by no means is it easy. According to PwC’s 21st CEO Survey almost three-quarters (74%) of private company CEOs are concerned about the speed of technological change and its effects on their business.

Indeed, new technologies and digital systems are being introduced at a rate never seen before, reshaping the way we all do business. Private companies that currently lag their public counterparts in attracting digital talent need to take note of this deficit if they want to drive innovation, improve decision making, enhance customer experiences, and create better business models. More to the point, they need to take technology seriously.

On average, the CEOs who responded to our private company survey appear markedly less concerned than public company CEOs about the acceleration of technological change, and the cyber threats that inevitably come with it. Alarmingly, 22% of private company CEOs are not concerned at all about cyber threats. As such, it’s worth asking whether private companies are taking these digital disruptions as seriously as they should be, and are they acting quickly and strategically to seize opportunities and reduce risks?

Over 60% of private company CEO’s agreed that digital transformation can be disruptive to a business and leaders need to be prepared. Here are some important considerations for private company leaders considering how digital and technological advancements will shape the future of their businesses.

  1. Be transparent with plans for digital adoption

Private companies are just that: private. Many prefer to keep their business strategies and plans strictly confidential, limited to a small and senior circle of trusted individuals. However, being open about your business strategy, specifically your plans for how technology will play a key role in shaping your business, is increasingly important for attracting both customers and top talent.

Like it or not, transparency is the norm in today’s business landscape: anyone can do a quick internet search and learn all about your company. By treating your digital ambitions as a trade secret, you look like you’re lagging behind or avoiding future challenges. Be open about your budget and spending on digital software, your investment in new capabilities, and your specific tech opportunities. After all, the leaders of tomorrow want to know that they’re working for a forward-thinking company committed to innovation and transformation.

  1. Attract and retain talent with digital skills

Private company CEOs are working to attract the talent they need, the survey shows, including doing such things as improving compensation and benefits packages (78%), implementing continuous learning programs (85%), and modernizing the working environment (86%). Still, half of private company CEOs say it is difficult to attract digital talent. As more companies try to recruit these much sought-after professionals, the more challenging they are to find. While colleges and universities continue to ramp up their training in these skills, the reality is that supply doesn’t always keep up with demand. In fact, half of private business CEOs surveyed say it’s somewhat or very difficult to attract digital talent—yet it’s crucial to find that talent in order to fend off cyber threats and keep pace with the breakneck speed of technological change.

The best tech talent can have their pick of employer; they’re looking to find a company committed to tech transformation that will follow through on its plans to invest and evolve in the digital space. Your would-be recruits can tell if your commitment is superficial or transitory—and if that’s the case, they’ll look elsewhere. This makes it even more important for you to share your intentions for evolving your business. It’s not just about being transparent internally with your employees, but externally with the talent pool as well, by demonstrating that you have a robust strategy that you’re ready to put into action.

  1. Re-tool your existing talent for the digital world

At the end of the day, digital and tech skills have to be part of everyone’s role—not just IT. Sourcing and recruiting digital talent may be a daunting task. At the outset, make sure you’re aware of existing talent’s strengths and limitations, and how to effectively leverage team members with the right skills. Do you have people who are natural users of digital programs and platforms, who can push the needle to get others to do the same? Many business leaders are noticing potential in their own offices and helping those with interest and ability to increase their skills. Building your digital talent from the bottom up is becoming more important if you want to keep your business moving forward in all areas.

This doesn’t mean that skills like problem solving, leadership, adaptability, and creativity are no longer important; as a matter of fact, they’re necessary for digital systems to be mobilized as intelligently and as innovatively as possible. A digital-first workplace is one where different departments can collaborate in nimble, flexible, and cross-functional teams. And why not give your up-and-coming digitally-minded talent the opportunity to lead those transformation initiatives, reporting to your leadership team? It gives them a great opportunity to showcase their value and fully engage with the future of your business.

Locating and nurturing the talent you need is never an easy task, but as a private business, you may have an edge. The management teams of private companies tend to be small and tight-knit, unburdened by responsibility to public shareholders; as a result, you can often move more flexibly and decisively than your larger rivals. You can also change course with greater agility as you get a sense of which systems work best for your business, and build on your success by scaling them quickly. Success is contagious—once your strategies, software, and talent are in place, you can execute with speed and efficiency to pile up wins at an accelerating pace.

It’s time for private companies to be transparent with their tech strategies: your digital plan should be clear enough that everyone at your company can articulate it, and it should be public-facing so that the talent pool can see it—and see that you’re acting on it. For private businesses that don’t accept this level of transparency and visibility, the future will be an uphill battle. But companies that can be open about their digital ambitions will be able to compete, and win, for years to come.


About the authors:

Photo-saul-plener-use-this-picture-for-external-website-photo-2Saul Plener
 is the National Leader for PwC's Private Company Services practice in Canada. Based in Toronto, he works with a dedicated team of business advisers in Canada and globally to bring value to owners and leaders of private companies. 

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Partridge-penny-18-york-2Penny Partridge is Chief Human Resources Officer at PwC Canada. Based in Toronto, she is responsible for all aspects of talent management, learning and development, and human resources for PwC Canada. She is a partner on the firm’s Extended Leadership Team and also the Human Capital Performance Leader for the firm’s western territory region, US, South America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

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