Less than 25 years ago, many CEOs dismissed the suggestion of a company website, or at best, offered reluctant approval and virtually no support. This approach was soon proven to be in error. Today, however, there are many in the C-suite who have a similar attitude toward digital change — they either fail to see the benefits or fear that digital initiatives will somehow undermine their power and control. Once more, these executives are in error.
To one degree or another, virtually all businesses are a digital enterprise. They have websites, communicate via social media, give field reps mobile devices and employ email marketing campaigns. Most often, however, these efforts lack structure or any type of comprehensive strategy. The CMO has pushed through initiatives to collect data about customers or create personalized campaigns; the CHRO has finagled an application to accept online resumes from job candidates, and the COO has little interest beyond improving employee efficiencies and productivity.
In short, what many enterprises create when they try to make the transformation to digital is — well, a disorganized mess, to be blunt. Fortunately, it does not have to be that way — but success begins in the boardroom.
Tips for an Effective Digital Initiative
- Every C-level executive needs to be involved in the digital initiative. Going digital is not the sole responsibility of IT, marketing or any other single department.
- Turf wars have no place in a digital initiative. Every executive needs to put the best interests of the company first — the initiative needs to be enterprise-wide, integrated as needed and a collaborative effort.
- The “trickle” approach is normally preferable to the “big bang” approach. In other words, break the initiative into small iterations with priorities determined by consensus.
- The job of the C-suite is to support efforts, not interfere with them. Avoid the tendency to micromanage the project — just select the best people and then let them do their jobs.
- Plan, plan, plan! Nail down as many details as possible before embarking on the first project. Create a comprehensive plan that outlines what needs to be done and why it is necessary. Make sure that initiatives make sense for your specific enterprise — do not “jump on a bandwagon” or choose a strategy simply because a particular digital change worked for a competitor.
- Define what you are trying to accomplish from every digital change. Know what your goals are before attempting to choose a strategy or select a product. Once you know your destination, it is far easier to map your route.
- Many CxOs expect unrealistic results. An investment in digital is unlikely to make a positive impact on the financial statements immediately. At first, it may seem that the initiative is just a “money pit” that is draining resources. Be patient; realize that digital initiatives take time to provide a return on investment.
- Do not forget your employees. Changes of any type in the workplace can be unsettling. With digital, you may need to address concerns that some employees have, such as whether their jobs are secure or whether they have the skills to perform in the new environment. Build in the time and money to train employees on new technology, if needed.
- As a related point, whenever possible, get feedback from the people who do the actual job when planning a digital initiative. Ask them open-ended questions, such as asking them what issues make their jobs more difficult, what complaints they have heard from customers or what they believe would be the best way to resolve any challenges they are facing.
The digital revolution is here, and those who fail to embrace new technologies risk falling behind. Making the transition successfully, however, requires the collaborative efforts of the entire C-suite.