In the world of Retail, the requirements for Digital leaders have shifted in ways you may not expect.  It is not those who are most tech-savvy super-users with the latest gadget, or the data miners. Omni-channel is dead and gone. Nextgen retail, as echoed throughout the recent Shoptalk conference in Las Vegas, affirms that the “customer is the one and only channel”. In this new and evolving transformation for retail, the new digital landscape demands thought leaders, executives who have the courage and mindset to imagine beyond what is possible today and define it for tomorrow.

This emerging talent pool is made up of those who may not have done it before, but have the drive and fearlessness to invent something new for tomorrow. But the new leaders cannot do it alone, unlike the individual geniuses of past decades who brought us here. To survive tomorrow, digital leaders must simplify, marshal teams, and inspire collaboration rather than competition. Technology is not only driving change in how we buy, but it is transforming the requirements for digital talent within the organization.

In the words of both Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs, “Starting with the customer and working backwards into technology” is the only way it works. Eliminating barriers and making shopping as simple as possible, requires vision and disruption. For most companies, this is easier said than done. System adaptations, supply chain modifications and speed-to-market enhancements appear to be the disruption required.   But I believe we need to look deeper into the organization, to the talent in leadership, the teams that directly serve the customer and how these groups work together. The disruption I am referring to is not the kind that takes increased complexity and makes it more complicated. Positive disruption breaks down silos, simplifies ways of working, and puts decision making into the hands of those who are closest to the customer.

Smart companies are finding ways to simplify by organizing diverse teams under one digital leader, thus putting digital at the core. Today we see Chief Technology Officers with much greater influence than former, traditional CIOs, many with added responsibilities for Marketing, Social Media, Planning, Ecommerce, Retail, or Store Operations. Under one leader the customer is centric, reducing competing forces and eliminating silos while increasing simplicity. For example, Amazon Prime Now delivers a new standard of one-hour shipping, leaving 2-day delivery now the mere standard. This experience creates a positive surprise for the customer, and is the result of a total team effort. Getting it in 2 days is now not good enough, while speed and simplicity is more important to shoppers than the cost of the product.

Adding new technology to retail is not only a financial and organizational challenge, but a cultural one as well. As Mike Blandina, from Westfield Development put it, “We win as a team, die as individuals”. Conversational commerce, where the consumer is the channel and where “the internet of things” is our way of life, requires people to work in close collaboration, funneling their individual ambition toward a shared objective – the customer. At Rebecca Minkoff, this transformation comes holistically, rather than as a chain reaction of quick fixes and short-term strategies. This applies to the physical space of where people work, down to where they sit. Shared unassigned space, open space, and fewer or no offices is a visual demonstration of how employees should work together. Removing walls sends a message about the need for open communication and puts the emphasis on the team, not the individual. After all, the goal is disruption of the market and simplification of work streams within the organization.

It is more challenging now than ever to find and select the digital talent to lead at this higher and more diverse level. As companies search for their next leaders, finding talent for the needs of today is no longer enough. We must trust in our ambitions and be courageous to hire the visionaries of tomorrow.