For CEOs, digital transformation has changed the game. CEOs today need new approaches to leadership, planning and vision. Otherwise, they risk leaving themselves and their companies falling behind in the wake of rapidly changing technologies.
The last decade has seen a remarkable rise in digitally disruptive technologies that have forever changed business models, business processes and the nature of work.
Consider the impact the Internet of Things, Big Data, analytics, automation, artificial intelligence and cloud computing have had on the way businesses operate. One only needs to look at what impact companies like Airbnb and Uber have had on the lodging and transportation verticals to realize that a new leadership approach is an absolute mandate for CEOs today.
How Is the Modern CEO Role Changing?
“Technology isn’t changing only corporations—it’s also changing the job of the CEO, bringing with it the challenge of keeping up with technological development,” notes a recent McKinsey & Co. article.
There are plenty of resources out there to help CEOs stay in touch with and understand emerging technologies, according to one anonymous business leader in the McKinsey piece. “What’s much harder for a leader is deciding what’s relevant and what’s not,” he said.
That means today’s CEOs need to be clear about priorities and be able to make fast decisions about to pursue.
What Leadership Structure Does a Tech-Savvy CEO Need?
The c-suite looks very different today than it did a decade ago. New titles reflect the importance of technologies in the modern enterprise: Chief automation officer, chief data officer, chief digital officer and chief information security officer are just a few of the roles that companies realize are critical for success.
Board members and senior executives alike need to be adept at and capable of adapting to the technical revolution, providing leadership and guidance to the CEO. These leaders may have experience and demonstrated success, but today they need to be agile. And the CEO needs to be aware of what they need and make changes accordingly.
How Can CEOs Plan for Digital Transformation?
“I very rarely get pulled into the today,” Amazon founder Jeff Bezos told Forbes in a 2018 interview. “I get to work two or three years into the future, and most of my leadership team has the same setup.”
That’s the right approach for CEOs wanting to lead digital transformation.
With so much disruption, Greg Crandall of Query Consulting Group suggests CEOs need planning processes that focus on customers and employees first. Customer expectations are evolving; they expect easy access to brands and that those brands know who they are, how they have interacted and can deliver immediate answers.
“Today’s organizations must compete within themselves to meet the needs of current and targeted customers. … This means internal teams, departments and other groups must compete … and cooperate with each other to transform the customers’ experiences by empowering employees to think and act in ways that, ultimately, transform the organization itself,” Crandall writes. “And to do this, those teams need leadership from the top that promotes thinking critically, communicating transparently, and acting with agility.”
The focus on the customer is paramount to Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. In a January 2019 interview, he said, “What I focus on is the customer. The customers speak every quarter. They speak every year. They speak every day. And the most important thing for us is that they’re satisfied.”
The cycles are changing too. Gone are the days when 3- to 5-year planning cycles suffice. Today’s CEO needs to lead a process of continuous planning and assessment.
How Do Today’s CEOs Have To Communicate?
Transparency and humility are the order of the day for the modern CEO. Customers, partners, employees and stakeholders expect open and clear messaging. They cannot think of digital strategy as somehow separate from other strategic planning.
Instead, CEOs need a holistic approach that embraces and incorporates technology, listens carefully to customers, and applies that learning and perspective into changes to business models, business processes, markets, structure and culture. The CEO needs to project that the organization is one that is adaptive, learning and nimble.
How Big a Role Should the CEO Play in Digital Transformation?
Traditionally, Research and Development and IT divisions have been responsible for product development and innovation. That’s changing, notes Thomas Siebel, chairman and CEO of C3 IoT.
“With the 21st-century digital transformation, the adoption cycle has inverted. What I’m seeing now is that, almost invariably, global corporate transformations are initiated and propelled by the CEO,” Siebel writes. “Visionary CEOs, individually, are the engines of massive change that is unprecedented in the history of information technology—possibly unprecedented in the history of commerce.”
As technology transforms companies, industries and how we live, work and play, it’s only natural that the CEO’s role also needs to change. CEOs who recognize and embrace the digital revolution are most likely to see their organizations thrive and grow.