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Digital talent: Liberty Mutual insists on engineers who can talk business KPIs

There’s no easy formula for driving digital transformation at so-called pre-digital companies. But experts at the 2018 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium agreed that most organizations will need to bring in fresh blood to build up the digital talent pool.

Tanguy Catlin

Indeed, a recipe for failure is assuming “you will be able to retrain your entire population,” said Tanguy Catlin, a senior partner at McKinsey & Company. He explained how McKinsey realized some five years ago that it would need to build digital talent through acquisition, buying up firms specializing in digital design and analytics.

Andrei Oprisan, vice president of technology and director of the Boston Tech Hub at Liberty Mutual Insurance, has not shrunk from bringing in new digital talent to get up the company to digital speed. Of his 120-person strong development team, three-quarters are hires from the outside.

But he said the company has also taken steps to cultivate fresh digital talent internally with a program that allows Liberty Mutual employees to be trained as engineers.

“I have two recovering lawyers who are now engineers on the teams,” Oprisan said. “We’re basically paying for anyone within the company to send them to … a coding academy.” Trainees can then get hired as associate entry-level engineers and have the “chance to move up very quickly based on what they actually deliver.”

Digital talent attributes

Andrei Oprisan

A key attribute that new hires and internal engineers must possess is strong communication skills. “One of the things we learned very early on was that we over-indexed for technical capabilities when we were trying to hire for engineers,” Oprisan said. “In fact, we wound up swinging the pendulum the other way.”

He added: “We’re now saying that if you can’t explain to the business how what you’re working on relates to a KPI and is going to drive forward the business, we’re not sure that is a good place for you.”

Oprisan said the emphasis on communication is actually a best practice taken from Google, which he said looked at factors for failure and success in its teams and ranked STEM capabilities low on the totem pole.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about creating the right culture with the talent you’re attracting: folks who are open to criticism, who are open to learning and open to educating [the people on] the other side of the traditional wall that we had between IT and the business,” Oprisan said.

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