The Simplest Diagnostic to Detect Digital Misalignment
Oct 24, 2013
Detecting misalignment between key areas of your organization isn’t as easy as detecting the misalignment in your car. When you are driving down the interstate at 75 miles per hour and your car wants to pull to the left, you have a lack of alignment. When your SVP of Digital wants to throw himself in front of a city bus rather than go to that Monday morning executive status meeting with the CEO and CMO whom he knows will make his life worse than it already is, your organization may be misaligned. Both are dangerous and need to be fixed. We’ll leave the car’s issues for another article.
Most companies are struggling with digital, whether it’s a colossal transformation initiative or a series of smaller digital projects. The reality is that Digital is something that needs to be properly situated within your organization and it needs to be aligned from the top enterprise goals down to the most molecular customer experience objective.
What we’ve found is that there are actually problems behind this struggle. At the top of that list of hidden problems is that those companies struggling with Digital are facing deep organizational challenges that merely exacerbate their lack of traction or progress in digital transformation.
It’s always a people problem. The fix to this is often culture, shared goals and governance. And the diagnosable symptoms are most easily found in the people responsible for making it happen.
Try this experiment; interview at least one person up and down your digital hierarchy and ask each of them the following two questions. In our experience, we expect that the act of comparing their answers may very well reveal the evidence of or lack of alignment.
1. How is our approach to digital specifically helping to empower our organization today and into the next 3 years?
2. Who ‘owns’ digital (initiative definition, sponsorship, funding and governance) in our company and how is that working?
Over the years, we’ve helped facilitate interviews of digital leaders within many companies by asking them the two questions above. Below, is a relatively hypothetical representation of the answers we typically hear. We’ve included direct answers and our distilled interpretations of the answers.
From the CMO…
“Digital Marketing is mostly under control here. I believe we are on track to deliver solidly on our three-year digital plan. We’re evolving quickly and charting solid, measurable progress. Secondly, I guess our CEO is ultimately in charge of this initiative. The buck has to stop there. From a ‘boots on the ground’ perspective, the steering wheel is in the hands of our SVP of Digital.”
Likely Happening: Notice how The CMO changed the question from a broader ‘digital’ to ‘digital marketing?’ Dangerously, she makes little distinction between a much larger digital transformation initiative and it’s component digital marketing. They’re not one in the same but she consistently refers to them interchangeably.
The CMO feels enormous pressure to transform the company, toward the digital—but feels a lack of power to do so. It’s unclear to her the amount of responsibility that should fall on her shoulders but nonetheless, she feels it all. She is trapped between a good CEO and a genius SVP of Digital—both for whom she has tremendous respect. She believes the CEO sees marketing, and thus her role, as a loose array of subjectively defined Web experiments that cannot be forecasted or measured well enough. And she feels it’s incumbent upon her to lead the company’s ill-defined digital transformation strategy without the support of the CIO who has the CEO’s ear more often than not.
From the CEO…
“We have a lot of talented people in marketing all working really hard, and while we haven’t hit some recent milestones, I’m confident that it’s because we’re evolving quickly and making progress in a rapidly shifting digital environment. I understand we have a three-year plan underway and I think that’s going to work out well.”
“And the answer to the second question is simple. That ownership really resides between me and my delegation to the SVP of Digital, who I trust.”
Likely Happening: The CEO shares the exact same lack of distinction between ‘digital’ and ‘digital marketing as the CMO.’ He has more power than business unit knowledge of initiative execution. From his vantage point, everything is good but can always be improved. He is guarded from much of the day-to-day and now has a much younger board of directors demanding measured growth in digital with a host of quick win initiatives, all of which have been fast-tracked. He has a vision for alignment and whole-heartedly believes the organization is further along than it really is. In reality, he hasn’t been told how much time, effort and planning go into alignment and the extent to which ongoing governance plays a role in its success. While he’d secretly like digital to go away, he knows it’s the future and he’s trying to learn and apply the best pressure where it can have the greatest bottom-line results.
From the SVP Digital…
“We’re making progress but I’m not positive the executive suite understands how complicated digital is and how rapidly this shit moves. I mean we have 110 concurrent digital initiatives in the pipeline all labeled ‘critical.’ And as of the last board of directors meeting, we now have to worry about marketing automation and content marketing, not to mention enterprise transformation and a mobile innovation Center of Excellence and 360 degrees of the customer channel experience unification—or whatever the hell it’s called. Not sure how we are going to get all this done. And it really sucks that our board of directors can simply say “digital transformation” and — poof — there goes all of next year’s weekends.”
“Our CEO owns it. He passes a lot of the accountability off to our CMO and CIO, I guess. And in some respects, I guess I catch some of that as well. Actually it’s not very well defined. I mean, I don’t imagine I’d lose my job if we don’t hit targets, but I am sure I’d have some memorable conversations around annual review time.”
Likely Happening: The SVP of Digital is left holding much of the bag. He is working consistent 60 – 70 hour weeks and isn’t in a good mood when the uninitiated criticize him for being the “no” man when it comes to green-lighting new digital initiatives that aren’t either ‘light’s on, doors open’ (those ongoing operational things that a company needs to do in order to operate in the next month like e-commerce, CRM, etc.) or in direct line of customer. He has 13 chiefs all of whom want his ear and his allegiance to fast track their agenda’d initiatives. He is actually the one who has come up with the most compelling case for enterprise digital alignment out of sheer desperation. Not only did he come up with it, he made the single best case for it and it’s awaiting the next board of directors meeting for approval. He has a dire need for digital strategy on his team but the org design doesn’t matrix that into his teams and he is desperate for it. He feels like he’s both trapped and sinking. And critically, he is unaware the CEO is on record labeling him as the owner of digital. That has never been discussed explicitly and is not a part of his role declaration.
From the SVP Sales and Business Development…
“Jesus, don’t even get me started on this Digital Marketing thing. After all, isn’t Marketing’s job to enable my crew? Isn’t that it? Instead they’ve got the 60-year-old engineering dudes in Building E in front of the camera and writing long-ass articles about circuitry to put on the web—and they’re calling it Content Marketing. Give me a break! Meanwhile, my inside sales crew is working off the same old crap we’ve been working from for the last five years. And my guys in the field have lost all faith. How can I be accountable if I don’t have the right tools? Seriously, do you make your plumber fix a leaky toilet with nail clippers? I’m not sure why the guys at the top keep listening to our marketing people. I mean, they have nothing on their track record and they seem to keep getting all the budget.”
“As for who owns it, I have to say: I have no frickin’ clue. I imagine it’s the fellas in the Web shop.”
Likely Happening: The SVP of Sales and Business Development has altogether ditched the notion of digital and speaks only about marketing. He sees new digital initiatives like sales automation and content marketing and their associated budgets as superfluous and experimental when he feels his needs are being overlooked. Understandably, he wants more of what has worked in the past for him—even if there is something new that may work even better.
It’s apparent the CMO and he aren’t in each other’s fan club; which is very common and typically flares up when marketing needs the salespeople to commit to CRM synchronization through Salesforce with marketing automation tools like Marketo or Pardot added into the mix. It’s not shocking that asking the salespeople to do what they do, differently, and on new platforms for results they see as unproven would be met with pause, if not complete mutiny.
From the Director of Digital…
“Oh man! We’re so screwed. There’s a lock on hiring and we’re down four developers, four designers and now the engineering peeps are writing content in support of the new content marketing effort from up high. No one knows exactly what’s going on and now I have to learn some new marketing automation software called Marketo. I guess I’ll just have to make that my new hobby because it’s sure as hell not going to be getting done between 9 and 5.
“Our CEO owns it all the way. He is the one ultimately accountable to the Board of Directors which includes a few badass Silicon Valley start-up dudes in their 20’s.”
Likely Happening: The Director of Digital, being further down hill, feels as if she is bearing more of the burden. She is in charge of the designers, developers, QA group and one user experience designer/information architect. She is also responsible for sourcing outside service providers/vendors to help get it all done but has been dealt a double whammy in that she can neither hire additional staff and cannot outsource any new initiatives until the beginning of the next fiscal year in an attempt to control costs. She can only see the number of competing initiatives in a culture that has never said ‘no’ to a digital project. What she really wants to do is find a way to illustrate the impossibility of the workload and institute a consistent and aligned prioritization schema that allows the company to do fewer projects with better planning and design—but she has neither the experience to make that happen or the support from the top.
From the Web Developer…
“This place is really great. I totally love my job. I feel like a valued member of the team. And our leadership is stellar. Our CEO mentioned the importance of the Web in the last town hall meeting. I’m solid!
“My boss, the Director of Digital owns it.”
Likely Happening: The web developer knows that at the current rate, there is endless demand for his services. He is 90% utilized/subscribed for the next 9 straight months and loving it. He knows he is at the bottom of the hierarchy and has no real power to change things even though he has a dozen ideas about how to get more efficiency out of the project team and initiative queue. He has uncharacteristic clarity and immediately thinks the lack of alignment is the problem. Last year he put three ideas down to achieve alignment in digital into a PowerPoint but wasn’t able to get an hour with anyone to share them. A brand-redacted version of his ideas is on Slideshare with 41,000 views.
So, if the results of this simple interview diagnostic yields incommensurate accounts of how your organization is charting its forward progress in digital and it becomes unclear about who is actually accountable for its governance — as is obvious in the statements above — then you undoubtedly have an alignment problem.
And while the intent of this article isn’t to help you fix the problem, I want to share some directional advice. Here are the best, easy, quick wins to allow your organization to begin aligning digital.
1. Create a single accountable digital cohort. This cohort should both include and be accountable directly to the CEO. The cohort needs to be responsible for measured progress along preset benchmarks that get at least quarterly, if not monthly, attention from the highest level. It goes without saying, this cohort needs to be set up for success.
2. Pack this cohort with a representative from each level of your digital hierarchy. Our recommendation is:
– VP or SVP of Digital
– Director of Digital
– VP or SVP of Marketing
– VP or SVP of Sales/Business Development
– Web/Social/Mobile practitioner
3. Create benchmarks for where you want your organization to be in six month increments, at least three years out.
4. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals that everyone knows, intimately.
5. Establish unambiguous accountability for those who ‘own’ the alignment.
6. Give those who are most accountable the power they need to be successful.
7. Get everyone in the company behind this. Tell the whole organization about the goals and list out the quick wins you are aiming to complete with quarterly updates to the entire company. This will keep everyone accountable, clear and energized to make their best contribution. Use this as an opportunity to hold a company town hall meeting with every element of the cohort having a speaking role.
8. Have an outside entity interview everyone in your cohort every six months with the two diagnostic questions to determine the level of alignment you are achieving.
Remember, your diagnosis normally points back to three symptoms. They are culture, governance and shared goals. Using the simple two-question diagnostic will help you with a good starting point and should open the eyes of those who should most likely have direct responsibility for digital alignment.
I’m curious to know what you think. Try it out and report back.