This weeks curator, Cerys Hearsey examines the role of Chief Digital Officer and how they set the tone for organisation-wide transformation efforts.

Organisations that want to become agile and adaptive often hire a central Chief Digital Officer to guide their transformation. But the risk is this creates another C-suite empire that is as much focused on politics and budget cycles as it is on real change. We are increasingly seeing a trend towards more distributed, networked approaches.

A CDO can sometimes inadvertently reinforce the idea that digital is ‘other’ to the purpose of the business, or that digital is a ‘function’ rather than being everywhere. C-suite representation brings important focus and strategic vision, but we find a CDO is more effective when working alongside a multi-stakeholder Digital Leaders Group (DLG) that can act as a guiding coalition for change.

A good DLG mixes digital-savvy emerging leaders with existing leaders who perhaps have more in-depth knowledge of the market and can keep the digital passionates grounded in addressing real customer needs as well as identifying big future opportunities afforded by digital. This group can often build a more credible digital story that can be understood across the organisation. They can also connect and promote digital standards to ensure distributed activities and projects are interoperable, but without imposing central control. Ideally, the DLG should co-ordinate, communicate and work through consent, rather than seeking consensus and centralised decision-making.

Leaders often struggle to show immediate business value for transformation efforts. To move beyond short-term ROI into transformation and innovation takes a calculated and distributed strategy. A DLG approach, ideally coupled with a growing distributed network of digital guides, is a great way to spread and mitigate risk compared to a single programme or initiative, and also to map, connect and leverage digital skills and knowledge across the organisation. But more than that, in the (sometimes) lonely world of the CDO, a DLG can be a force multiplier for radical organisation and service transformation.

To help explore this topic further, I have collected a selection of links on these themes: