Directing the Digital Journey
The Best's Review article, “Directing the Digital Journey,” quoted Russell Reynolds Associates Consultant Limore Zilberman about her thoughts on the rise of the Chief Digital Officer. She also explained the five qualities that distinguish digital transformation leaders from other senior executives. The article is excerpted below.
When A.T. Kearney noticed an unfamiliar acronym--CDO--popping up in the C-suite in 2010, it decided to do a bit of digging into the prevalence of these new chief digital officers. The global management consulting firm didn't find much. The CDO was something of an anomaly just seven years ago.
That certainly has changed. Across industries and sectors, chief digital officers are on the rise and have become one of the fastest growing executive positions.
"I think the most important part to start with, for the company, is to understand what they want the chief digital officer to do," said Limore Zilberman, a consultant with executive search firm Russell Reynolds Associates. "So part of the conversation we engage in, even before defining that role and its mission, is to understand from the client what problems they're trying to solve for and make sure that it's mapped back to the customer's behaviors and needs. What we have found, in doing that, is that the digital leader can take on many different types of digital roles."
"There isn't necessarily one overarching fabric that you'll see in a mission for a chief digital officer," Zilberman said. "Every company is attempting to do this very differently. They're personalizing the journey for their customers, agents, brokers and other stakeholders.
"One thing we see is that organizations in insurance have matured from being digitally aware to being digitally adopted. They've got some visibility into all channels, but it's disjointed. We're pushing our clients to be digitally integrated and to ensure that digital integration is woven into the overall company strategy. You have to have a single view of the customer across all of your channels. You have to have an agile learning-oriented environment. And it needs to be a competency of all the C-suite executives and down. You have to have a digitally savvy CEO and board. It's not good enough to have a chief digital officer. It needs to emanate from the top down and from the bottom up," she said.
"There are sometimes turf wars on who owns the digital journey," Zilberman said. "You have to be careful of where this resource is situated. In some organizations it reports directly to the CEO and becomes an enterprise function. In some organizations it sits in marketing. In some organizations it's specific to the products and distribution. If you can elevate it to the enterprise level, where product leaders and distribution leaders can tap into it, it becomes less territorial."
"I think it's going to take insurers a longer time to be truly digitally enabled," Zilberman said. "There is added cultural transformation that this industry needs to go through. It's so firmly rooted in tradition and traditional distribution. We came a long way going from direct mail to having mobile capabilities and customers expecting to be able to seamlessly pay their bills online, manage their claims online and manage their policies. So that was evolutionary. But once organizations, specifically insurance companies, really embrace and embed digital culture in their organizations, you're not just going to have one digital leader, rather an entire company and culture of digital enablement.
"I want to highlight the importance of having digital embedded throughout your organization," Zilberman continued. "Having a digital officer doesn't make you a digitally sophisticated company. You have to embed it in the functions, you have to embed it in your products, you have to embed it in your distribution. It's usually embedded much more easily in marketing, but you also have to think about embedding it in your board and in the governance structure. Until that happens--and we're at the beginning of a long journey--it's one person overseeing it. And that person may not have a role anymore once the whole company starts embracing it."
Five characteristics of successful digital leaders.
Limore Zilberman, a consultant at executive recruiting firm Russell Reynolds Associates, laid out five qualities that distinguish digital transformation leaders from other senior executives.
"They think outside the box," Zilberman said. "In insurance, they are someone who can respectfully challenge traditional approaches. The nuance for insurance is that this person needs to be someone who appreciates the traditional way products are sold and delivered, but also helps think out of the box and can come up with innovative and inquisitive solutions. They need to think abstractly to help insurance companies think beyond the traditional routes."
"Politely and respectfully, within the cultural norms, that means going against the grain," Zilberman said. "It is someone independent-minded who has a strong entrepreneurial spirit and is willing to take calculated risks. Within insurance, that requires respecting the cultural norms and industry norms of a very deeply rooted industry."
"It's someone who is going to take the initiative and test the limits and test the boundaries," Zilberman said. "It's also going to be someone who identifies what the limitations are. What sometimes companies fall victim to is having unrealistic expectations of digital outlets and channels and products, but not necessarily understanding the limitations and the confines. So it's exceptionally important for this digital leader to outline the limitations. This is someone who will be decisive and lead from the front."
"These digital executives are typically very socially confident and socially adept," Zilberman said. "They really do seek to understand people, and they're also adaptable to different audiences. This is a role that has multiple stakeholders--some of whom are more sophisticated in their understanding of digital and some of whom are less so. So this person needs to be adaptable to their different stakeholders."
"These are people that seek very high levels of activity," Zilberman said. "They're optimistic. They're achievement oriented."
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