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What It Takes to Be a Digital Workplace Director

8 minute read
Dom Nicastro avatar
An exploration of the evolving digital workplace director role and the skills and attributes necessary to be successful.

What does it take to be a digital workplace director? According to Robert Half International’s 1,718-word job advertisement for a director of digital workplace and internal user experience, it takes quite a bit, specifically, 49 requirements and 38 qualifications.

Is this the standard now for digital workplace directors? Are the qualifications this extensive across the board? For some, sure. However, a quick search of internet job boards for digital workplace director suggests not all postings are this intense. 

Digital Workplace Talent Challenges

Here's the reality: growing pressures for digital transformation at companies drive organizations to pick strong leaders to guide them through the digital haze. Not that challenges don't remain finding the right talent. 

Sloan Management Review and Deloitte’s 2018 Digital Business Global Executive Study and Research Project found 90 percent of companies say they need to update their skills at least annually. According to the study, 85 percent agree that, for the most part, their company has “exactly the workforce and skill set it needs to support digital transformation.” However, finding, training and retaining the right talent is the number 1 challenge for many (35 percent of respondents).

Related Article: Emerging Digital Workplace Job Roles

Quite the List of Qualifications and Requirements

Companies like Robert Half International are serious about the leaders they chose in the digital workplace. Here’s a sample of some of the company’s expected responsibilities for its director of digital workplace and internal user experience position:

  • Responsible for leading the organization’s strategy, projects and processes for digital workplace solutions.
  • Experience with the modern digital workplace (global intranet) and design thinking (including mobile and apps).
  • Increase standardization of core processes; improve processes in support of strategic imperatives and programs.
  • Demonstrates autonomy by executing tool and channel strategy, gathering requirements from multiple sources, obtaining and coordinating the proper approvals, and partnering with dev, automation, product team, automation or outside partners to execute strategic initiatives.
  • Responsible for developing and implanting procedures/processes and ensuring team can execute according to guidelines provided; this will include development of templates, documented processes including the global style and user guides and ongoing training.

And some of the qualifications for the position:

  • Bachelor’s degree in IT, user experience (UX), human computer interaction, digital marketing or information architecture and/or business management/leadership.
  • 10+ years experience developing and supporting enterprise intranet applications, UX and digital technology solutions in large organizations.
  • 7+ years of business management/leadership experience, including direct supervisory experience and experience mentoring/developing technical professionals.
  • At least 5+ years managing employee facing web solutions, intranet portal, SharePoint Online, or collaboration platform team at a large company.
  • At least 5+ years managing a UX architecture team/department at a large firm.
  • Familiar with HTML, DHTML, XML, Cascading Style Sheets and JavaScript.
  • Familiar with web 2.0 technologies (AJAX, web services, etc.) and mobile technologies.

Related Article: Digital Workplace Challenges for 2019

Digital Workplace Directors Are a Special Breed

That's only a smattering of what's required. So, are you ready to apply for the job? Bottom line, it takes a special breed with a blend of digital, technical and people skills, someone with an eye for not only running the digital workplace ship as it sails now, but also well into the future.

Ben Whitter, founder and CEO of the World Employee Experience Institute (WEEI), said the best colleagues he knows in roles such as digital workplace director are “cut from a different cloth.” They possess capabilities and attributes that have perhaps not been as evident in the workplace before. “This is a unique and powerful combination,” Whitter added. “With entrepreneurial flair, they are able to combine tech savviness with human-centricity to provide seamless, integrated and compelling digital experiences within work.” 

Leadership and Strategy Crucial

Having an impartial/agnostic view of developing and guiding enterprise digital workplace strategy is crucial for a digital workplace director, according to Jeff Willinger, a Microsoft MVP and chief experience officer at BA Insight. This includes defining the business capability roadmap and working with IT support teams for design, development and delivery of services. 

“Some of the day-to-day activities would support communication and collaboration platforms, which include the intranet, enterprise social network, digital signs and productivity applications such as email, online meetings, instant messaging and file sync/storage,” Willinger said.

Start With the End User

Digital workplace leaders start with the user to co-create innovative tech solutions that actually serve and meet the needs of employees, Whitter said. They are an architect of connection and are able to operate across the whole picture rather than simply parts of it, he added. 

“Naturally, they are at home when dealing with strategy and careful in balancing the objectives of the business with the best possible internally or externally designed solutions for people,” Whitter said. “Operating in the future, they will be spotting trends early, moving to adoption of tech that could deliver a competitive advantage quickly, and will be able to influence peers and related functions through an evidence-based approach to digital workplace development.” 

Related Article: Is Your Digital Workplace Too Big, Too Small or Just Right?

Learning Opportunities

Focus on Employee Experience, Not Just Productivity

The onus may be on the digital workplace director to support productivity, but this, Whitter said, is only part of the story. They also need to deliver outcomes across the employee experience. “This will include shaping a coherent and aligned approach across the business, which will include key elements like L&D, well-being, benefits, facilities, catering and knowledgebases amongst many other things.” 

Digital employee experience must be seamless, smooth and connected to ensure that the business sees the benefits of a digital workplace strategy. “This role will need to be close to the action on multiple fronts and will work with multiple stakeholders to ensure that people are at the forefront of the digital strategy and transformation,” Whitter said. Digital workplaces serve people, helping them deliver their best work and live their best life. "A director operating in this space, and from that position, has a great opportunity to make that happen, for everyone,” he added.

Related Article: 7 Factors to Help Ensure Digital Workplace Success 

Going Beyond Technical, Digital Skills

Technical skills and Office 365 knowledge aren’t the only hallmarks of a strong digital workplace leader. Dana Leeson, co-founder of the IC Crowd and former head of digital workplace at BSI Group, shared some soft attributes these leaders must have.

Respect and Confidence is Paramount

Beyond some of the technical matters, it goes without saying that having the respect of the digital workplace director’s team and colleagues throughout the organization and being respectful in return will inspire and engage individuals to work together with their digital workplace leader, according to Leeson. “Coupling respect with confidence, a digital workplace leader would create an exhilarating place to work. Working alongside and for a leader who is confident creates confidence in yourself, in the work you are collectively doing and the vision you are embarking on.”  

Digital workplace directors must also listen. “It’s very simple,” Leeson said. “If a leader is not seen [as someone who] listens to their team or colleagues and cannot clearly and concisely communicate their vision and ideas they are not a leader: they are a manager.” 

Flexibility and Fearlessness

A digital workplace leader must be open to trying new things, convince the executive and/or board to take visionary leaps of faith and also be open to changing the direction if it is not meeting the organization’s core objectives.  

Authenticity About Individuality and Cultures

The leader of the digital workplace must drive what is good for the organization by recognizing that it cannot be “one size fits all,” Leeson said. What works in Canada does not work in Russia. Create a global vision, but implement local preferences. 

Inspirational Strategies

It’s integral to create inspirational clear strategies that engage your colleagues. However, it’s important to keep the strategy, goal and objectives concise. Don’t overwhelm the team or colleagues with too many projects and enhancements. "It’s all seen as change to their day, their routine," she said. "A great leader says no by focusing on a small number of initiatives. This allows the team delivering a chance to do it well, but also will provide a greater impact to the colleagues whose work days are changing."

Innovating on New Ways of Working

What's the big picture in terms of what's important for your digital workplace director to understand? Let's look to the job posting from Robert Half we cited earlier: "Understanding and innovating on new ways of working, have a broader focus on the online employee experience of Robert Half's internal tools ... and apply user experience principles across the digital workplace landscape. ... Partner with product management and technical teams to drive, design and deliver innovative employee solutions. ... Stay current on internal and external trends and technology and provide point of view on experience and design."

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