Making a digital transformation work. Part 2

20 Nov 2019

Making a digital transformation work. Part 2

What kind of leadership did it take to change the way RTL Nederland worked so fundamentally, and why was making mistakes an important part of getting things right?

Pieter Ebeling, Partner Consumer, Retail and Digital at Odgers Berndtson Amsterdam, continues his earlier conversation with RTL’s CEO Sven Sauvé , CTO Giovanni Piccirilli and CCO Lucien Brouwer.

Pieter Ebeling: What kind of leadership best drives digital transformation?

Giovanni Piccirilli: You need leaders that believe in the change that needs to happen. But believing is not the same as going blindly in a certain direction. You have to keep looking around. You need to make sure that you, as a leader, board member, and the board around you too, have the same goals and help each other achieving them.

The risk in organisations like RTL is that the resistance from staff is so high that you will say ‘well, either I abandon or I’ll leave, or I’ll soften my approach’. You start making compromises. Then, it all becomes half-done.

Timing is also important. Often, there is a discussion ‘are we doing it too quickly, can we wait for a year or two?’.

"Well, the change in the world outside is happening really fast and we don’t have the luxury of waiting. You need to do it fast and well"

Yes, you can make mistakes along the way, and you will make mistakes, and you will have to learn through those. That is the type of personality and behaviour you need.

Lucien Brouwer: Patience is important, having a goal and working towards it. The second is the willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.

Very often, when I read about it, this is written as a hollow statement, but it is actually very important. You have to go through that learning curve together and analyse very precisely where it went wrong and how next time can be better, and also help others remind you of that.

"You have to really use your mistakes as input for learning"

A personal one that I would like to add is to listen very carefully to what the various stakeholders find, think and feel in such a transformation. Because so many things are going to move in a transformation that you have to have an eye for everyone’s perspectives. All kinds of elements will emerge. It can be personal elements, it can be business elements, it might have to do with speed of development. For example, have you given all stakeholders proper time and have you listened well enough to what they have to say?

Another is the willingness to make hard choices. So ‘what do you do and what don't you do’, not wanting to do everything. The mistake we made is to make the scope too large. The willingness to look very critically at the scope of your digital transformation, to make the right choices and to build up the transformation in the right order, that is important.

Sven Sauvé: It is very important that you have a very clear vision of where you want to go and you are good at communicating that with everyone. In addition, you have to be quite stubborn to hold on to that vision, always be prepared to sharpen it in some respects, but continue to follow through even though you will often find that it is far more difficult and complicated than you had expected.

PE: If you would do it again, would you do it any differently?

GP: Hindsight is a wonderful thing. The mistakes that were made, a couple were pretty big. If they were not big, we would not have learned from them and would not have understood the importance of getting it right. People still remember the mistakes we made, and they avoid them going forward.

You could say ‘I could have avoided doing this and that’, but how would people have learned and how would the belief of the people that are around us today be, if these mistakes were not made. That is a great question.

In a strange way I would say most likely we made the right mistakes. These mistakes and clashes happened. However, these are the things that everyone remembers and they made us stronger. Without them we would have been in a different place right now.

Giovanni Piccirilli

LB: Of course that answer is yes. At the same time, if you had done everything right in one go, you would also have taken away the opportunity to learn and perhaps take a completely different direction based on those learnings. Because the lessons also bring you to points where you have to be very critical with each other and occasionally really take a different path than if everything had gone smoothly. Doing everything right in one go sounds like ideal and everyone wants that.

"Only by occasionally messing up, do you get conversations that can lead to a fundamental different choice in how you want to deal with your service, product and transformation"

SS: If I specifically take the brand of Videoland, which is the pillar of digital innovation for us, then I can conclude that in the beginning we did several things wrong, but we learned very quickly from it. What I would do differently now is to bring in new talent much faster.

The second point is if you want to be successful in the digital world, then you have to put the consumer first in all the choices you make. That skill, we call that fan-centric, to really know what the consumer wants, to substantiate that with data, and to make your choices based on that, you have to do that much sooner.

From a B2B organisation, we fully focused on the B2C side, what the consumer wants, and that is where our turning point really came about.

PE: What’s the best evidence of RTL’s success?

SS: I think the entire digital content world is dominated by foreign players in the field of video. We are the only party in the Netherlands able to claim the #2 position in the market and the #1 position as the local VOD player, and we have no intention of giving it up.

PE: Thank you everyone for your contributions and insights about leadership and what it takes to make digital transformation work.

You can read the first part of this interview here.