Is the Chief Digital Officer leaving the building?

As specialist headhunters in the field of digital transformation, we found our recent discussion with our global search partners fascinating.  While many of our clients are in the process of transforming digitally and have recruited or are looking to recruit a Chief Digital Officer, our global clients are seeing the exit of the CDO.

“We barely knew them before they left the building!”, our colleagues commented. One wonders if the CDO role should have been created in the first place.

The reason for their appointment was to assist a traditional analogue business in transforming to a digital one.  In reality, the digital role was already being performed by the CMO, CIO, COO and Chief Innovation Officer in some cases.  This created an overlap that we have certainly seen evidence of in our CDO searches.Depending on the structure of the C Suite, the role either had a strong Marketing or Technology overlap.

McKinsey stated that “Digital isn’t merely a thing—it’s a new way of doing things. Many companies are focused on developing a digital strategy when they should instead focus on integrating digital into all aspects of the business, from channels and processes and data to the operating model, incentives, and culture.” and yet rather than advise how to embed a digital culture across the entire organisation we instead need a new role that’s pivotal to that strategy”.

Forbes quoted, “If you look at the common requirements and traits defined as part of a CDO role they can be pretty much found across the entire organisation everywhere else:

  • Be a champion of innovation
  • Be a champion of transformation
  • Be a champion of the customer
  • Be a champion of agility
  • Be a champion of collaboration
  • Be a champion of marketing

Some commentators advise that the CEO would be better advised to make sure that the rest of the team, including themselves, are more aligned as a cohesive leadership unit to define and execute a strategy for the customer and economy we live in today.

As headhunters, we’ve observed that business is often not ready for a dedicated CDO.  The leadership often don’t understand digital but appoint the individual for fear of the business being left behind.  Everyone gets on with their own core functions and the CDO is left with a weak mandate and little power to get things done.

The impact of digital therefore affects everyone’s job, from top to bottom.  In our experience, the CIO now bears increased responsibility to ensure the stability and ROI of new technology.  Each and every individual placed is required to have a handle on digital transformation and to imbed digital in their core responsibilities.

To assist you in the search for this key digital transformation talent and to support your strategy, call Janet Labberte (Managing Partner, Cape Town +27 83 229 8770) or Carilyn Oxley (Managing Partner, Johannesburg +27 83 601 2500)