An open email to new CDOs: how to ace your first 100 days

An open email to new CDOs: how to ace your first 100 days

By Antony Mayfield, July 2017. Posts

Dear new CDO,

When any new CDO starts, expectations are high and all-too hazy. Expectations are high for the individual, the company and the board. All of them likely thinking different things – different ideas of what digital is, what the precise challenges are for their company, hoping that the smorgasbord of challenges they face will be solved by this semi-mystical, super-powered executive from the future.

So you’ve got the job. Until you persuade them otherwise you are everyone’s present-day panacea – and sucker/scapegoat for the difficult days to come. Congratulations.

Now what do you do first?

1. Draw a clear picture of the current state.

You will have done your homework, but you know that you will only begin to get to know the state of things once you are inside. Naturally you will want to meet a broad swathe of stakeholders, making sure there are some customers and partners in the mix. But building your own sense of the culture and challenges is not going to be enough. To show why, how and where change is needed in the company you will need to craft a narrative, backed by data, about the reality of the company’s current situation.

Some CDOs have done this by creating customer experience maps, organisation maps showing digital touch-points, or qualitative research into perceptions of attitudes and needs around how the company works with digital. I recommend doing all three, and get your board up to speed by showing them their current state and challenges in a way that means they are all looking at the problem in the same way.

Using our Sonar diagnostic tool to survey employees across 97 countries, we helped one client show that the global leaders’ understanding of digital transformation was only understood by its central teams and that local territories had deeply differing views of what was possible and what they needed from head office to succeed.

2. Get help from change agents and do-ers, not big consultancies.

It’s tempting to bring in a big consultancy to help understand the current state view and to help develop a digital transformation strategy. CDOs tell us that this has more often slowed their initial momentum and wasted valuable time and good will at the start of their tenure. As one frustrated individual put it, “Why did I think hiring an incumbent would help me become a disruptor?” Another said, that after two years and a seven figure investment, “All I was left with was a 200-page PDF”.

Your role was created because your company knew that it needed to change. In a sense it hired you to be that change. You may well need outside support and minds to solve issues, especially as it will take time to create your internal team – but make sure it is focused on changing by doing, not just plans for change.  Transforming a large organisation is in large part about over-coming organisational inertia – best to get moving right away.

3. Find the win (and don’t worry if it is the company website).

Thinking in terms of your first 100 days you need to find the right win. “Find the win”, emerged as a mantra from a dinner debate between ten CDOs and executives with similar roles we held recently.

Naturally, a successful early project creates momentum, makes the CDO more able to secure backing for future change projects and demonstrates that they are having a positive impact on the business.

The subtle difference between finding “a win” and “the win” is important to note.  One CDO said their biggest regret 18 months into the job was that they had not spotted the opportunity in redeveloping the corporate website. “The website felt like a distraction, a Web 1.0 albatross round our neck, and I was keen to show how reshaping content in social media and other touchpoint could improve how we worked,” they told us. A year later they realised that for that company, the website’s flaws and poor performance were embarrassing and were “a totem” for all the things that was wrong with their digital strategy. With radical simplification and applying a few basic principles to its governance, the CDO won a great deal of support across the organisation and interest in what was next for them in digital.

Another senior digital leader at a retailer told us that the company’s mobile website had  been the key to change. They took the radical move of changing the website to a daily build approach. “In a stroke there was no more roadmap, no more integration issues and the number of planning meetings was reduced by 90%,” they said. But the shift to a completely new model for the mobile site solved more than just the problems associated with the old way of doing things, it unblocked the company’s understanding of what was possible when it worked in a more agile way – its success leading to reevaluation of everything from in-store promotions to the fundamentals of the business planning cycle.

Of course, it may not be the website. Other projects that were key early wins for CDOs I spoke to were developing performance dashboards for sales, silo-busting ways of working on a key digital marketing programme, and creating a digital leadership and capability programme with their learning and development colleagues. Which brings us to our fourth and final CDO to-do item…

4. Build other digital leaders – fast.

As pundits are fond of saying, when companies truly transform in digital, the word “digital” should fade away. Most CDOs know this, but in the day-to-day of their work, their knowledge and ability to plan in digital is their point of difference from other leaders, and the temptation can be to protect that status.

A recent Econsultancy study in the UK found that most CDOs saw their next role as being CEO of their companies – a logical step, once they have succeeded in reshaping their organisation to be successful in the digital age. To get there, they need their senior peers and their high potential leaders to have a deep understanding of the significance and nature of the digital revolution.

CDOs need to focus on education and developing a digital mindset across their organisations. They should make a priority of developing the digital mindset and skills of other leaders

As one senior digital leader put it to me, “You have to realise your job is to build a coalition not an empire – it’s the only way that you will really succeed in creating a meaningful digital transformation”.

So there you go, the four priorities for your first 100 days. Just four, yes – but there’s more than enough there to keep you busy, I’m sure.


Antony Mayfield, CEO of Brilliant Noise