Forester CEO George Colony

Forrester CEO George Colony

When the CEO of Forrester posts 7 of my longtime slogans in a list of “10 Things The CEO Can Do To Drive Digital“, I pay attention.

Of course, things didn’t start this way. First, a friend put a link the post on Facebook. I read the title and commented: at what place is “fire yourself and leave the place to knowledgeable people” listed?

Then, just for spite, I went to read the whole post, and found out my favourite entry was at number 3Then I started to pay attention…

And was, I must say, enthusiastic about it: here were my very own battle slogans of years, collected at an exclusive dinner among top echelons and kindly brought to the general public by someone in a position to be heard. YES! I was the Kwisatz Haderach!

Then again, you know, I’m a geek. A seeker. I do not stop. After twenty-five years on the market, I may be cool with good-enough since that is what the market contents itself with. But, philosophically, I am for continuous improvement. The list is cool, but obvious (I know, I have been preaching most of that stuff for years) and bland (as in nice-sounding-without-actually-telling-anything-an-MBA-cannot-cope-with bland).

If that is the best that CEOs from a very lively group from BASF, Tetra Pak, Unilever, KLM, Bayer, the WTO, and other large European companies can come out, tell  my trader to buy Chinese stock.

The list is the go-to mindset for, say, 2008 (when I started evangelising some of the stuff). Declined countries like Italy may, and do, even find it still too far-reaching. But it’s 2013, once-developing countries are now fierce fierce, and we’re talking “large European companies”, not mom and pop shops. Of course, large companies have size on their side, but so did dinosaurs.

Today digital is do or die for most CEOs, regardless of their industry; let’s respect them by telling it as it is instead of giving them pretty-pretty, “nothing-to-worry”, “business-as-usual” platitudes. They are mature adults under a vital threat, and need to react accordingly. So, I’ll review the list and put some oomph in it along the way.

1. Clearly define who owns digital. Clean up the organizational confusion.

Hello? Helloooo? This is 2013. If you need still need this, please go to #3. Like, now. Oh, by the way: let’s call “who owns digital” Chief Data Officer. Take note the capital “C”. You’ll see this material again.

2. Create the business case for digital. Show how it increases revenue [or] profit (or both).

You’re the CEO, right? Chances are you don’t know digital enough to create a business case for it. Task your best business-minded ICT person with this. You don’t have one? Find one. Incidentally, he should be the person who owns digital in #1. It is not? No problemo, you are the executive decision guy: executively decide to reassign the slot.

3. If you can’t understand the new world of digital, fire yourself.

after you have replaced most of the Board because they surely don’t, either. Anyway, all this is just wishful thinking, not strategy.

4. Build an executive team that is digital first (when problems arise, the first solution is always digital).

Digital is culture, not religion. Things do not get magically easier because they get digital (that’s solutionism, and it’s sooo marketing fluff). You’re the CEO, you must know that when a problem arises the solution can be a change in process, a change in organisation, a change in technology (digital or otherwise) or any combination of the above. You are paid to have that combination found.

 5. Build an executive team that is mobile first (when linking to customers, the first alternative is always mobile).

While digital is culture, mobile is just technology. If having an executive team makes any sense (yes I know, you love to think automation only concerns non-execs. Good luck.), it should be to look beyond technology. If you still haven’t (please see #3) you should consider that M2M provides better links to your customers today, and will provide better business tomorrow. Yes, I’m saying bots should join your salesforce.

6. Make sure there is a techie on the board of directors. If the board has a low digital IQ, the company will have a low digital IQ.

First, this means your CDO must be on the Board. And as a peer among peers, not as a “me-too”. Let everybody know without ambiguity that the CDO has your full support. Do not tolerate any “I’m your senior here” behaviour with him from anybody.

(Also, do not ever use the “T-word” on somebody unless you too have climbed up IT ranks or are very, very close friends. Ever. Even a kid can call you a “empty suit”, and we techies have a way with languages. Show some respect, and you’ll be shown some in return.)

ICT is where the finest analytical minds in your organisation get buried and forgotten while brown-nosers“people” persons climb the corporate ladder one cocktail at a time. Yes, techies may have issues with “soft” skills (we like economy and precision and always call an asshole an asshole), but their marginality is your fault: you are paid to discover and grow talent to the company’s profit. Do it.

7. Go to Silicon Valley once per year and talk to the disrupters. Understand their modus operandi and their methods.

Pilgrimage to the Valley earns cool points on the press and makes for some time out. It also guarantees you’ll be using two-year-old ideas and methods. If you want to innovate, allow your own people to come up with their own disruptive ideas, then send them to the Valley to pitch, and reap on the profits. When you need time out, take time out, don’t fake a business travel.

 8. Don’t block Facebook, Twitter and other social sites within the company. Make a point of attracting digital natives into the organization.

If you believe in digital “natives”, I have a very well-kempt bridge over the Hudson you may want to buy. What you want to hire is people with brain and competencies who master digital culture at a business level. You may be surprised by their age distribution.

Regarding “social media”: people use them anyway, just make sure they use them for the company more than they do for their own business.

9. Require that every business function and system in the company is always available on any device at any time.

Sure, go ahead, make “seat of the pants” the official decision method in your company. What do you think you’re running, an ER unit? In your company, “always available” is mobile marketing jargon for “there are no defined procedures or processes, things get decided on the spot and no one with a smartphone takes direct responsibility for anything he can pass on with a phone call”.

What you want is to

  • bring decisions to the lowest possible levels of the hierarchy
  • streamline decision-taking
  • abolish micromanagement
  • reduce work hours: overtime means inefficiency or overload, and both are bad for business
  • give people free time to be creative: that’s where disruption comes from

10. Figure out where the business will be most disrupted, and send the digital troops there. Don’t spread them everywhere — go where the fight is.

It’s about time we cut the military crap: a CEO is not General Patton, a company is not an army and the last thing a CEO wants is the company engaging in power struggles rather than business. Drop the warrior rhetoric and:

  • choose your CDO wisely
  • make feedback mandatory from any level to the level below and to the level above; I said feedback, not evaluation because you need the former, not the latter. You, as all managers, do nt know what really is going on in your organisation, and it is vital that you start knowing
  • demand the CDO defines a plan for improving digital literacy throughout the company, at all levels (that means executives, too)
    (No, I don’t mean Office classes or SAP classes, I mean stuff your company needs to abandon the old ways and invent new, better ones; if your CDO is any good he’ll know, and he’ll tell you)
  • fund your CDO as he requires
  • expect all hierarchy levels initially to exert resistance proportional to their height in the ladder; keep calm, and show them where the door is.

That’s all for now. I’ll put out my own list in a couple days.

Businesses today need to understand digital change as a serious, do-or-die challenge, and need business-minded IT people to drive it: if “a passion for digital” can be OK in marketing it surely falls short when you’re talking strategy and reorganisation. As I have been preaching for years, it’s about time “techies” start bringing digital culture where it belongs: on the Board.

Call to action

So, if any of you readers can get me in touch to Mr. Colony, or to someone who knows him, I believe he could do much worse than reach out and make me an offer I can’t refuse. Driving organizations to digital will require a lot of work, and I’m one of those who can do it. I’ll appreciate your help.

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