CMO’s Notebook: Are You A Digitally Savvy Leader?

Digital transformation is a team sport that spans the enterprise—across the board, to the C-suite, to the management team, to associates, and to all strategic partners.

Is your company up for the challenge? According to Deloitte’s “Global Human Capital Trends 2017” report, “only 5% of companies feel they have strong digital leaders.” Meanwhile, a 2016 MIT/Deloitte survey of managers and executives shows “90% expect their industries to be disrupted by digital technologies to a great or moderate extent, but only 44% believe their organizations are adequately prepared for these digital disruptions.”


Now, a new report aims to strategically prepare companies for a successful digital transformation. “The Digital Savvy C-Suite and Boardroom” Executive Monitor report from Boyden Global Executive Search, comprises a survey of 1,200-plus American executives along with in-depth interviews.

“Top leaders realize that it’s imperative for senior management to keep up with everything from AI to e-commerce to data analytics, or they risk the company’s viability and their own careers,” said Boyden CMO Gray Hollett.

Among the findings:

  • Most (53%) believe the management or senior leadership at their company is unprepared to implement a successful digital strategy, while only 14% indicated their companies’ leadership is “very prepared.”
  • Only 48% said their company is placing a great deal of or some emphasis on digital training, while 52% said their company is emphasizing the training minimally or not at all.
  • Key challenges to implementing a digital strategy include the sizable investment required in digital tools and capabilities, and antiquated KPIs to demonstrate a return on this investment. There might be a negative return in the short run, but these investments do result in payback over time. Many traditional KPIs do not apply. 

“To capture the power of digital transformation, companies must look to a new generation of more agile leaders,” said Boyden partner Steven Nilsen. “For them, ‘digital’ is not a task to be done. It is how a task gets done. It is a culture and a mindset.”

Once the board and C-suite commit to embarking on or accelerating a digital transformation, who should spearhead this change? Easier to ask than answer, according to the Boyden report.

“Companies typically struggle to identify an individual or group of individuals responsible for spearheading and executing a digital strategy. Many companies create new roles for this purpose while others repurpose old ones, redirecting their focus to a digital transformation,” the report stated. “A long list of individuals are tasked with this [separate] mission, including CMOs, chief digital officers, chief information officers, chief technology officers, and even chief executive officers.”

My opinion? Here’s what I told Boyden, which had invited me to participate in the study:

“I think any digital platform should sit with the CMO. The CMO is the department lead that is closest to understanding the consumer, the marketplace, and the competitive landscape. In this role, the CMO is best-positioned to use the martech stack and big data available through various digital and social channels to inform the rest of the organization of trends and changed consumer behavior in the marketplace. This includes informing the CEO, C-suite, and board of real-time changes and trends. Still, the CMO will only be successful in this role when working in partnership and strategic harmony with the CIO, the CTO, chief sales officer, and, ultimately, the C-suite at large.”

Bottom line, digital transformation is complex and requires change management leadership capabilities.

Said Armin Meier, who leads Boyden’s Global Industrial Practice and is managing partner of Boyden Switzerland: “Digitization stands not only for putting more digital tools and methods in place, but also for a changing lifestyle, a certain mindset, the way leaders lead, the way organizations are put together, and the way processes are being managed. ... The action should be with everybody in the organization. This will only be successful if those at the top are aligned to make it happen.”

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