First 100 days in the CDO role

A two-part series on what CDOs have to get right early

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The “first 100 days” may be a famed transition period for new U.S. presidents, but isn’t it also a valid time frame for almost any senior leader to lay the groundwork for success? In the business world, we often talk about probationary periods for new employees lasting for the first 90 to 180 days. Their competence and effectiveness are examined at the end of that period of time just as presidential administrations are scrutinized intensely for their work and progress during their first 100 days in office.

As I consider both the opportunities and the challenges today’s chief digital officers (CDO) have to contend with, including the hopes and ambitions of entire businesses set on digital transformation, I believe the first 100 days are also important in laying the groundwork to lead digital transformation efforts. While the entire world may not be watching, CDOs today are in the executive hot seat and are carrying heavy expectations. How can today’s CDOs meet the soaring aspirations of employees, fellow executives, customers, investors and the marketplace — all looking to digital to drive better operations, more customers, greater efficiency, higher profits, more powerful innovation, smarter data and more? By turning those first 100 days into a time to ensure that these three essential areas are aligned: People, processes and technology.

When old is good

People, processes and technology. That doesn’t sound very new or disruptive does it? And it shouldn’t. Leading businesses and IT organizations have been aligning around people, process and technology excellence for ages. I have staked my career on them. You can’t work in infrastructure and technology outsourcing without believing in their importance. However, digital transformation has many organizations off balance in one or more of these three areas. Recently I wrote about the importance of the digital health check, which I believe is essential work for first 100 days on the job for a CDO. On a broader scale, those first few months on the job also have to be about finding people, process and technology alignment so that the entire organization is working together toward digital success. With that “people, process and technology” goal in mind, I am going to start this two-part series examining the people considerations CDOs must take into account when they first start the job.

Starting with people

It makes sense that a digital chief’s early days on the job should be people-focused. As much as some might contend that the digital age is driven by technology, I contend it is equally driven, if not more, by people. The democratization of technology (the rapid spread of access to data among more and more people) has allowed people — and their wants and needs — to shape technology more than businesses, governments and other institutions. CDOs stepping into a new role need to examine how people inside and outside are digitally engaging and influencing the company.

Inside people

A large majority of people today are very comfortable using digital technologies in their personal lives. It’s hard to find someone of any generation who is not digitally connected. Whether experts in Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat or Facebook, we are all adapting to a more connected world and the mobile devices, social media, data and cloud technology that make it work. For a CDO, the challenge is to take the digital skills people are gaining outside of the workplace and find ways to bring that fluency to the workplace.

One of the best places to start is to poll employees to find out where and how they are engaging digitally. What social and mobile technologies speak to your talent pools? For global companies, it’s a fascinating exercise in looking at how common or diverse the engagement tools can be. A CDO who doesn’t understand how and where workers are digitally engaged has a large blind spot and will be ineffective in driving the necessary enthusiasm and energy around digital projects.  Getting a read on their baseline usage and digital favorites will help a CDO set the stage for strong digital leadership.

Outside people

How are people outside the organization engaging the company? That is the next big people question for CDOs. First and foremost, this is a question about customers. How is digital shaping their experience with the business and how should that change for the better? The customer experience is one of the best places to leverage digital capabilities to make a powerful difference in building new business, retaining customers and growing brand loyalty. However, a CDO can’t push digital customer engagement strategies without knowing where customers are today and understanding their tolerance for change.

And while the customer engagement experience is key, digital is where partners, investors, the media and job seekers also connect with the business. In the first 100 days, CDOs should also build a comprehensive profile of marketplace engagement. This strategic auditing process should tell them how and where the business is connecting with people outside the organization and where they are missing digital engagement opportunities.

What’s ahead: Processes and tech

Just like a presidential administration, CDOs have to pack a lot into the first 100 days, which means we’re not done here. In the second part of this series, we are going to expand the executive agenda and look into the importance of evaluating processes and technology in those early foundation-building days. Stay tuned.

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