April 11, 2017
There’s a mind-numbing alphabet soup of C-level titles in today’s enterprises. Beyond the standards, there’s also Chief Digital Officer, Chief Robotics Officer, Chief Automation Officer, Chief Cognitive Officer, Chief Customer Officer, Chief Experience Officer, and so on.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO), of course, is the one on whom the organization most depends, as “the buck stops there.” Historically, the CEO typically engaged with the Chief Finance Officer, Chief Strategy Officer, and Chief Operating Officer. The CEO set the long term strategy, and the organization executed it. And the CEO was considered great if he or she could be the face of the organization to drive broader strategy, business development, and market leadership.
Digital transformation and disruption is evolving the role of CEO
But digital disruption is driving massive transformation in the shape and flavor of the CEO’s role. While expected outcomes continue to be largely the same, today’s CEO must be technologically savvy, and must possess a techno-centric business view, not only to be the champion of digital transformation but also to take along the other C-level executives.
As digital transformation shrinks “front-to-back” processes, the CEO needs to understand the newer, shorter value chain, and how it makes the enterprise more competitive and relevant. Understanding this new world will also assist the CEO to be the best judge of digital transformation in the organization, rather than completely relying on business consultants.
Unfortunately, a lot of businesses are doing the opposite of what is needed. They are creating layers between the business and CEO by creating titles that serve as the “channel” to the CEO or the ear of the CEO. While this worked before digital disruption started creating havoc, innovation can now come from any part of the organization, and the CEO needs to be connected to that part.
Indeed, the CEO should ideally be the driver of digital transformation. Therefore, if the CEO does not understand Twitter, he/she can’t proactively suggest that as a channel to the HR team. If the CEO does not understand mobility, he/she can never outthink disruption or reimagine the business model. Of course, the CEO would have business leaders driving such change, (e.g., the HR head or CTO), but without the CEO’s proactive involvement and understanding of these fundamentally disruptive models, the enterprise won’t be able to derive business value.
The new kind of CEO needed in the age of digital transformation
What enterprises really need is a new CEO – a Chief Everything Officer. This is a C-level executive who understands everything in the digital landscape…the market, competition, customer, and, of course, technology. This CEO directly understands how digital disruption can impact different parts of the organization in order to create a vision for the enterprise that cannot be obtained from reliance on other C-level executives. Sure, the CEO would have a lot more bandwidth if other C-level executives were driving digital adoption. But that bandwidth would be valueless as the organization would be set up to fail. The reality is that digital transformation is not a project, but rather a business in and of itself. And the CEO must drive it in order to create meaningful value.
Is your company’s CEO the “Everything” he or she needs to be to enable the enterprise to compete and thrive in the midst of digital disruption?