Are CMO and CHRO the winning duet of the digital transformation ?

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Who should be in charge of the digital transformation ? There’s no magic model that works in every situation but we’re starting to see some good practices no one should depart from.

First, the digital transformation should not be owned by a person or a department in particular. That does not means there should not be a leader, Chief Digital Officer or other in charge of the big picture and coordination but it’s a global process that should involve the entire enterprise, from support functions to business lines. A leader yes, an absolute owner no.

CMO and CIO’s leadership in digital transformation is the normal

Second, who’s this leader. There are many possibilities but numbers speak for themselves. Whatever the study one refers to, the conclusions are the same. Digital Transformation is led by either CMO, the CIO or a Chief Digital Officier who often comes from….the marketing or IT department.

More interesting are the alliances we can observe. Businesses are aware that digital transformation is for everybody but they often consider that leadership should be shared too. They try to involve as many people as possible but if some refuse to join, they want at least to have a couple of people able to drive change at the highest level. A group of people able to trigger as many levers as possible even if others are playing a waiting game. With no surprise, these people are often a duet formed by the CMO and the CIO.

That’s easy to explain. As I wrote a couple of times, the CMO owns the customer (and the revenue) and the CIO owns the digital means. Moreover, as Frederic Charles said in his interview, both functions where created in a context and for needs that don’t exist anymore and are an anomaly in the org-chart. They are very concerned by the needed recomposition of the organizational landscape and see digital as an obvious and relevant way to reposition themselves.

The CIO-CMO duet misses something

An obvious but not that satisfactory solution. Even if we must be very careful because each organization has its own history, culture, and functions that weight differently because of this history or of the industry, I suggest that this duet misses something. A variable is lacking in the digital equation.

That’s not something new : technology is not the limiting factor of the digital transformation. In fact very few businesses are able to make the most out if it. It’s about new mindsets, ways to work, leadership, relationships with others and with change. It’s as much about culture and skills than technology and the main barrier to a productive and successful use of modern digital technologies is between the chair and the keyboard. It’s a the people level.

From a marketing perspective, since the goal is to design and deliver new experiences, there are many things in common with a better known discipline – even if not always mastered – which is services management and marketing. In both cases, broad principles and the technology that supports them are useless without the right mindset that helps to think marketing and experience differently. There’s a skill leap that neither CMOs nor CIOs are able to manage. Let also add a founding block of services marketing : the symmetry of attentions which means that the quality of the relationship between a business and its customers is at best equal to the quality of the relationship between the business and its employees.

Should the CHRO be the new CIO ?

Frédéric Cavazza nailed it in his 2015 predictions [in french] : the CHRO is the new CIO. In the line of my previous writings on “employee service” and “employee experience“, CHROs appear to be the missing link in the digital transformation. Even if we may fear they’re not likely to take their chance, there are lots of opportunities for them in this field (here and here). And they are legitimate. After all, who did not applause when Vineet Nayar transformed HCL claiming “Employees first, customer second” ?

If marketing helps to make sense of the digital transformation and give businesses a lift, employees are those who will propell it and are the limiting factor of the digital transformation. Maybe it’s going to change when digital will be embedded into most corporate, employees and managers culture but, for the time being, the digital means are human ones. Without them nothing will happen. No customer experience without employee experience.

If HR and marketing are used to work with IT – as a service provider rather than real partners -, CMOs-CHROs duets are rare, not to say they exist nowhere, but they make sense. Each one owns a part of the customer experience and if they can’t work jointly the whole value proposition will be impacted. The success of the marketing initiatives that will drive the digital transformation depends more on people than on technology.

CHROs as the owner of the brand and of the customer experience.

Talking about that, I advise you to read this passionating post by Benoit Meyronin (unfortunately in french…) on customer orientation as the future of the HR function. If your brand and service are logically personified by you employees, we may even push the logic further and expect CHROs to have a bright future in the marketing and customer relationship field provided they understand what’s at stake and how legitimate they are. The article mentions two companies (Toyota Belgium and MediaMrkt) that changed the title of their CHRO to call him “Customer Experience Director”.

Legitimate player of any transformation, owner of the employee experience and of many supporting processes, in charge of aligning talents and culture with the corporate strategy, function supposed to provide services to the employee and to the organization, HR is legitimate to partner with marketing to lead the digital transformation.

If we take a new perspective, we can claim the CHROs are the first players of the customer relationship ! Even if marketing decides what should be done, it’s biggest constraints are the talents and the corporate culture.

Businesses suffer from their silos and the most harmful one is the one existing between customer and employee management. It’s definitely one of the first that should be broken down to help businesses to adapt to the digital era.

Are CMOs and CHROS, HR and marketing, the winning duet of the digital transformation ? I’m sure the bet is worth being made.

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