Digital transformation isn’t only disrupting established business models. It’s disrupting time-honoured career paths. Once, an ambitious professional could take a straightforward path to build their experience and reputation in an area of business. The road from the cubicle to the corner office, and beyond, was mapped out for them. However, traditional corporate silos, and the career paths to the top of them, are changing as emerging technologies become central to every aspect of doing business.
This report examines the effect that digital disruption—transformation caused by the emergence of new technology and business models—is having on the career trajectories and development plans of current and future executives. It identifies the leadership skills that are emerging as conventional roles merge, and how executives in today’s marketing, sales, customer service and information technology (IT) functions propose to develop them.
Written by The Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by Salesforce, the research is based on a survey of 800 business executives, based in France, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. Key findings of this research include:
Leadership roles are merging amid digital disruption. The need for digital innovation in response to disruptive competition requires companies to be more collaborative, and therefore to remove the organisational barriers that hinder partnership across functions. Leadership roles are increasingly overlapping as a result: 70% of respondents say their role is merging with that of other leaders in their organisation, thanks to digital disruption. Marketing executives in particular see their function merging with IT.
That threatens once-clear career paths for business leaders. The conventional corporate hierarchy and functional specialisation offered employees a clear path to define their required skills and progress up the career ladder. Now, 48% of executives agree that the blurring of departmental boundaries makes it harder for them to plan their professional progression. Only 38% say it is clear where to focus their skills and training.
The leaders of tomorrow place more emphasis on interpersonal skills. Two-thirds of respondents believe that the ability to manage across functions will become a more important leadership skill in the next three years, thanks to digital disruption, and 65% say internal networking will be more important in the near future. The leadership skill that most respondents believe will grow in importance is motivating employees.
The erosion of organisational silos is an opportunity to develop as a leader. Many executives expect training to deliver the leadership skills they will require in future. Some believe they will need experience in other industries. But the majority (62%) of respondents say it is likely that they will expand their current role to include responsibility for other departments. This response to digital disruption seems to provide the best opportunity to emerge as stronger, more future-ready leaders.