In the new digital world, technology will drive companies into adjacent industries and new businesses

The Harvard Business Review conducted a five-year study of corporate growth involving 1,850 companies. The study reached two major conclusions:

The most sustained, profitable growth came from companies that pushed the boundaries of their core business into adjacent space.
Companies consistently and profitably outgrew their competitors by expanding those boundaries in predictable and repeatable ways.

In the new digital world, you have to improve your organization’s digital acumen


In the age of digital disruption, traditional ways of creating sustainable competitive advantage are no longer effective. The adoption of the new suite of digital technologies including social, mobile, cloud, data analytics is the new competitive imperative for success. Simply put, if you don’t significantly improve your organization’s digital acumen your competitive viability is at risk.

Most companies are lagging in adopting digital technologies

This year’s Harvey Nash/KPMG Survey of 4500 technology leaders found that only 18 percent said their company was effectively using digital technologies to advance their business strategy.

The 2017 New Rules for the Digital Age report from Deloitte found that only 5 percent of the companies surveyed said they have strong digital leadership development programs and 65 percent said that had no significant programs to drive digital leadership skills.

The chart below highlights the breadth, scope and impact of these new disruptive digital technologies:

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Bridge the digital technology gap

In order to improve your organization’s digital acumen, you have to get very good a leveraging digital technologies’ to:

  • Mine and interpret multiple data sources to make critical business decisions faster and more accurately
  • Optimize underlying business processes and functionality and convert them to digital processes
  • Anticipate what you need to do to deliver the ultimate customer engagement digital experiences
  • Provide your employees with digital workflow tools and resources to make them more productive and effective
  • Establish your brand as a pioneer in the new digital frontier

Identify what you need to learn to become a digital technology savvy organization

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Many companies today don’t have any formal process or initiative in place to expand their knowledge and understanding of the competitive impact digital technologies can have on their businesses. As such, they are often caught off-guard by these disruptive changes and find themselves scrambling for survival.

Here are some ideas to consider to avoid this situation:

  • The CEO should engage the C-suite and the Board in a series of discussions to agree upon the appropriate digital transformation strategy for the company and the plan to implement it.
  • Establish a digital technology learning network comprised of internal and external resources that can facilitate ongoing dialogues about when and how these technologies can impact your company’s performance.
  • Conduct periodic briefings and workshops for the Board, C-Suite, Operating Units and Functional Support Groups to introduce and socialize specific digital technology initiatives and programs.

Build a digital acumen roadmap 

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Most successful transformational journeys start with a concise well documented roadmap that highlights the desired outcomes and a timeline for critical deliverables. I think the core framing questions for this digital transformation roadmap are:

  • How does our company become a digital enterprise without compromising our customer relationships, our brand value proposition and our employees’ well-being?
  • How does our company look and operate as a digital enterprise?
  • How open is our culture to changing the way we do business?

Assemble a cross-functional digital transformation team


Once you’ve agreed to the digital strategy, you can then put together a dedicated cross-functional team to develop the roadmap and implementation plan. Unlike most planning exercises, this work cannot be done within vertical functional silos but rather must draw upon a diverse set of skills from across the entire organization. A study conducted by MIT and Deloitte found that 70% of digitally mature companies are organized around cross-functional teams versus just 28% for companies in the early stages of digital development.

To be clear, this work is not about improving the last best version of your old business model, it’s about creating the first best version of your new business model.

The good news is that you don’t have to do everything at once. You can and should identify specific parts of your business that present the best opportunities to conduct a series of pilot experiments where you can learn fast and make changes based on actual customer actions.

Here are some questions to start that process:

  • What part of our business has the highest competitive risk from a digital technology disruption?
  • What do we need to do to mitigate this competitive risk?
  • What resources can we redirect away from our current businesses to develop and launch a digital business?

Clearly a transformative change of this scope and magnitude is not undertaken lightly and requires:

  • The desire and resolve to explore new ways of doing business and letting go of the old ways of doing business.
  • Being willing to assemble a digital learning ecosystem of resources from both within and outside your organization.
  • A commitment to building a culture of continuous learning and experimentation.
  • Making increasing digital acumen a formal leadership competency for hiring and promotions.
  • Complete alignment and support for the new digital game plan from the Board all the way through the entire organization.

I have had the opportunity to work with several CIOs and their C-Suite colleagues on this issue and seen first-hand the benefits increasing digital acumen can bring to any organization. As such, if you are thinking about tackling these issues within your company, please reach out to me as I would be happy to share the approach we’ve taken and the results we’ve achieved.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at

In the New Digital World, Good Enough is No Longer Good Enough

“There’s never been a better time to be a great CIO or a worse time to be an average one.”

This quote from George Westerman, a leader of MIT’s Initiative on the Digital Economy, sends a clear message that good enough is no longer good enough. CIOs who still feel their primary job is to maintain the systems of record (SOR) that “run the business” are viewed as just average. While CIOs who develop and deploy systems of engagement (SOE) and systems of intelligence (SOI) that “change the business” are seen as making a critically essential contribution to the future competitive success of their organizations as digital enterprises.

To be perfectly clear this is not an either-or proposition but rather a both-and proposition. The key is to reverse the way IT resources are allocated.

What does average look like?

Most IT budgets still allocate 80% of their resources to running the business and 20% to changing the business. The emerging reality is that every dollar invested in SOR-support systems and software produces a diluted return to the company in terms of competitive differentiation. The reason being that 95% of the lifetime value of these investments has already been received. As such, they no longer deliver competitive differentiation.

By contrast, every dollar invested in SOE and SOI systems and software offer a much higher revenue and profit stream because they will be the primary source of future competitive advantage in the new digital era. To go from average to great you have to start by redeploying IT resources away from low value / low return activities to high value / high return activities.

What does great look like?

Historically IT has been viewed as a cost center support function whose primary responsibility is to build and maintain secure and stable platforms and tools that “keep the lights on.” While it is still essential to securely maintain these systems of record, in the new digital era it is now a competitive imperative that IT evolves into a business enablement role that leverages digital technology innovations which deliver increased revenues, margins, and profits. Simply put, IT has to move from the back seat to the front seat to the driver’s seat.

What are some CIOs doing to be great?

Ed McLaughlin, CIO at Mastercard, says “you really have to cease thinking of technology as a cost center. Technology is one of the primary assets of the business. So, you move away from thinking in terms of implementation projects, and more about how to run ongoing programs and get a feedback loop where you’re constantly optimizing those assets.” He and his leadership team are constantly asking two questions:

  • How do you optimize new value creation?
  • How do you optimize processes that make it easier to onboard customers and provide customer support?

Deanna Wise, CIO at Dignity Health, says “partnerships with the business, being innovative and seeing how you can drive a better customer experience does translate into revenue. There are a lot of forward-thinking CIOs who ask …what new programs and new initiatives can we use to drive revenue throughout the business?” According to Wise, “CIOs who fail to ask these questions do so at their peril. If IT is perceived as a cost in your organization and you do nothing to change that…you’ve made IT a commodity, and commodities can always be replaced.”

Jim Fowler, CIO at GE, thinks that if you want to turn enterprise technology into a source of monetary value and not just an expense, data is a great place to start. He says that monetary value “in the next ten years is going to come from connecting the value stream of information in a business, information about products, all the data coming off machines, and turning it into signals that will help automate work.”

Vijay Sankaran, CIO at TD Ameritrade, says that for him and his IT team “…design thinking is huge. It has become a critical tool in the pursuit of roboadvisers, chatbots and other customer-facing technologies intended to drive revenue growth.” Design thinking has helped Sankaran’s team visualize the client experience for applications they are building so they can fully understand their value along all the different customer touch points.

Wayne Shurts, CIO at Sysco, says “the burden is on the CIO to make the case that IT is concerned with more than cyber and risk management and it’s more than a cost center. The role of the CIO isn’t to go to the board to discuss every project. It’s to talk about how technology should operate across the organization and how investments support that.”

What can you do to assess where you stand today?

A good starting point to assess where your IT team stands today is to conduct a trapped value audit. This audit starts by determining what percentage of your IT resources and budget are allocated to run the business functions in the left-hand column in the chart below versus change the business functions in the right-hand column. Once you’ve established your resource allocation baseline, you can then begin a systematic review of how you can redeploy resources and budget from the left-hand column to the right-hand column. I am currently working with a CIO and his senior leadership team who have made very measurable progress moving their resource allocations and budgets from 76% – 24% to 60% – 40% in just one year.

What do you want the IT brand to stand for in your company?

As the examples above clearly illustrate, CIOs who aspire to be great have identified very specific ways to demonstrate the impact and value technology brings to their organizations. They have embraced this era of digital disruption as a new leadership challenge and an opportunity to redefine what the IT brand stands for in their companies, including:

  • A higher percentage of IT resources allocated to change-the-business outcomes
  • A significant improvement in time to value and throughput for all development initiatives
  • A strong alignment between future technology investments and critical business outcomes
  • A direct contributor to delivering increased revenues, margins and profits

While each CIO’s journey from average to great may take different paths, it seems clear that they all start with the recognition that good enough is no longer good enough.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at

In the New Digital World, Technology is the New Work of Business

What business are we in? The technology business.

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“The real issue is that every business is now a tech business – whether it wants to be or not – and that means not just new skills and experiences, but a new outlook on opportunity and strategy.”  This quote is from a recent Forbes analysis of the different business models companies can deploy and how each one is performing in the new digital world.

  • Asset Builders who produce and sell physical things are usually priced at .5 – 2x revenues
  • Service Providers who offer professional services are usually priced at 1 – 3x revenues
  • Technology Creators who develop new technologies are usually priced at 3 – 7x revenues
  • Network Orchestrators who manage social, business and transactional networks are usually priced at 4 – 11x revenues

What is driving these different performance levels is the emergence of new, more profitable business models that deploy new digital technologies like social, mobile, cloud, analytics and platforms.

A recent Harvard Business School study documented that “leading digital companies generate better gross margins, better earnings, and better net income than organizations that have not adopted a digital-first business growth strategy. Early digital adopters delivered a three-year average gross margin of 55 percent compared to 37 percent for digital laggards.

Most companies are behind the digital technology adoption curve

This year’s Harvey Nash/KPMG Survey of 4500 technology leaders found that only 18 percent said their company was effectively using digital technologies to advance their business strategy.

The 2017 New Rules for the Digital Age report from Deloitte found that only 5 percent of the companies surveyed said they have strong digital leadership development programs and 65 percent said that had no significant programs to drive digital leadership skills.

Digital Technology – The New Work of Business

As the McKinsey chart bellows highlights, there is no escaping the evidence that digital technology is converting the way businesses operate and compete albeit at varying rates of impact. As such, it is no longer a choice of whether companies are going to adopt and deploy digital technologies but rather a choice of when.

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Leveraging Digital Technology for Competitive Advantage

Uber reinvented the business model for the transportation industry by leveraging digital technology advances in smartphones, GPS sensors, and networks while Airbnb did the same to the hospitality industry business model.

In 2016, restaurants crossed a “digital milestone” when digital orders using smartphones or tablets (6.6%) exceeded telephone orders (5%).

Starbucks, an early adopter of “digital ordering” in the food & beverage business, says that 25 percent of their orders are now placed and paid for digitally. The digital ordering app has also helped them amass a loyalty program of 13 million active users in the U.S.

Domino’s Pizza has reported 24 consecutive quarters of increased sales in their U.S. stores and state that “technology has clearly been a big part of what’s been driving our business over the last five years.”

Charles Schwab, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley are deploying digital technology to deliver automated wealth management services to investors with as little as $5,000.00 to invest.

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These new “robo-advisory” services make it economically feasible to serve markets that were previously cost prohibitive by the traditional wealth advisory business model.

Apple’s Research Kit is using digital algorithms to gather so much clinical trial data that it could eventually disrupt the pharmaceutical industry by correlating the effectiveness of the medications we take.

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Disney Resorts has developed a suite of digital tools to help customers visiting their theme parks have a better experience.

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These new tools include the FastPass+ service which allows visitors to reserve access to specific attractions, and the MagicBand, a digital technology enabled wristband that facilitates reservations and customer routing at Disney World.

Lowe’s recently launched a new Innovation Lab with a mandate to work with outside organizations like Google and Microsoft to “develop technology that will improve store operations and customer experience.” Early experiments include:

  • LoweBots: self-guided robots that lead customers to specific products they are looking for, pull up information about different product options and check inventory for in-store product availability.

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  • Holoroom How To: a virtual reality tool that teaches customers how to do basic home renovations.

Silicon Valley Startup Blue River Technology manufactures robotic farming machines to help farmers manage their fields more efficiently.

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The traditional approach was to spray an entire field with weed-killing chemicals. Blue River robotic sprayers combine computer vision and machine learning algorithms to spray only those parts of the field that need it thereby reducing herbicide use by a factor of 10.

What does a digital technology business model look like for your company?

Short of facing an existential threat from a disruptive competitor, most companies are reluctant to engage in substantive discussions about modifying or changing their business model. Let’s be clear, not every business is standing in the middle of a burning platform but as the examples above suggest they should all see smoke on the horizon.

Here are some questions that will hopefully help you get the discussions started:

  1. How long can our current business model deliver our desired business growth goals and financial results?
    • Revenues, Margins, Net Profits
  1. What are the biggest threats to our current business model?
    • How quickly do we need to respond to these threats?
  1. What are the most attractive opportunities for us to leverage digital technology for increased competitive advantage?
    • What do we have in our digital technology development pipeline today?
    • How can we most efficiently and effectively test and validate new digital technology tools?
  2. How open is our culture to changing the way we do business?

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at

In the New Digital World, Success Starts With a Clear and Concise Statement of Intent

A Clear Statement of Intent Drives Desired Business Outcomes

Over the past two years, I observed a very distinct pattern between companies that successfully navigate the new digital world and those that fall behind. As it turns out, those who are emerging as the early leaders in the age of digital disruption share one thing in common – a clear statement of intent. In the illustration above, I have summarized what I think a statement of intent encompasses. What follows are some examples that have helped shape my thinking on this issue.

While Steve Balmer was in the last few years as CEO of Microsoft, he and his leadership team talked about the need to figure out how to migrate their offers to the cloud and mobile devices to better compete with Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook. What they didn’t do was to make a clear and concise statement of intent to prioritize that outcome. As a result, cloud and mobile revenues languished.

On his first day as CEO, Satya Nadella sent an email to all Microsoft employees saying from that day forward “Microsoft is a cloud first, mobile first company.”

Under his leadership, the company began a systematic rebooting of each of their core businesses to catch the new cloud and mobile waves.

Two years ago, they migrated the Office software business which provided an on-device license for personal productivity software including email which was supported by an on-premise Exchange business to run the back end. They diverted the high margin earnings from the current business to fund the launch of Office 365 on a cloud-based subscription model.

As you can see from the chart below, Microsoft’s Azure Cloud business has grown three-fold in the last two years following Satya Nadella’s clear statement of intent. The $14.8 billion from the commercial cloud businesses represents more than 15 percent of the $96.24 billion in overall revenue that Wall Street expects from Microsoft this year. That’s up from a ratio of about 10 percent in the previous year.

Microsoft: Commercial cloud revenue to jump 55% to nearly $15B this fiscal year

Ford vs. Tesla

When Mark Field was installed as the CEO of Ford three years ago, he talked about a variety of new business growth initiatives including electric and self-driving cars. While sales increased significantly over that three-year period, Ford’s stock declined by 40% as the majority of vehicles sold were the traditional cars and trucks the company has always built. What he didn’t do was to clearly declare his intent to make electric and self-driving cars the business growth priority. As a result, he was recently removed as the CEO of Ford.

At Tesla, CEO Elon Musk, has clearly communicated his desire to develop and deliver new software- enabled electric cars that can ultimately drive themselves. While Tesla’s sales are far less than Ford’s, the market rewarded the company with a higher market valuation in part because they believe in Musk’s statement of intent and the results he has produced thus far.


Other CEO’s are Getting the Message

A number of CEOs now see the value and benefit of clearly stating their intentions and business growth goals.

Two years ago, then-Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said he was transferring all his operating responsibilities to his President so he could “focus solely on all things digital.”

Google’s new CEO Sundar Pichai declared that going forward “Google is an A.I. Company first.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has said that “Facebook will be a video first company.”

Committing to the J Curve

The reason most well-established companies are still struggling with navigating this new digital world is that they don’t have the resolve and discipline to redirect scarce resources away from funding their current businesses in order to launch and scale a new digital business.

Venture capitalists call this investing in the J Curve to catch the S Curve as shown below:

As the Microsoft example above illustrates, in order for the company to migrate its Office business from on premise and on desktop to the cloud and mobile devices meant sacrificing short-term revenues, margins and earnings for the promise of long term competitive gains. But their recent results suggest that if you have the resolve to stay the course the rewards are significant.

In 2013, Adobe Systems embarked on a major transition from a product/license sales model to a cloud -based subscription model. Revenue shrank 8% in the first year and was basically flat in 2014. The skeptics’ and naysayers’ voices rang loud and clear.

Fortunately, the senior leadership team at the company along with the board stayed true to their intent and Adobe’s revenues reached nearly $6 billion in 2016 up from $4 billion in 2013. Eighty percent of those revenues came from subscriptions and other recurring sources.

By contrast, the recent financial performance of IBM, Hewlett Packard, GE and Ford seem to validate how hard it is for well-established companies to free their company’s future from the pull of their past.


Short-term earnings performance vs. long-term competitive advantage

As these examples illustrate, the single biggest challenge facing CEOs and other C-Suite leaders in well established companies is how to find the right balance between funding the businesses they have versus making significant enough investments in next generation businesses so than can deliver material revenues and profits to the company. Said another way, this challenge pits the demand to deliver short-term quarterly earnings against the desire to create long-term competitive advantage.

Making a transition of this magnitude and impact not only requires strong leadership and intestinal fortitude but increasingly a leader willing to put a stake in the ground and make a clear and compelling statement of intent. It will ultimately redefine the winners and losers in the new age of digital disruption.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at 

In the New Digital World, Catching the Next Wave is a Necessity


Last July, I suggested that well-established companies could no longer sustain competitive advantage through using their size and market reach as barriers to entry. The unprecedented assault of new waves of digital disruption have enabled companies of any size to penetrate some portion of well-established companies’ value chains. Taken together these disruptions are making what was scarce and expensive now ubiquitous and cheap as the chart below illustrates. Simply put, companies must now find totally new ways to compete or risk a major wipeout.


Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as it looks

Over the past several decades, a number of America’s very best and well-established companies were not able to catch the next wave. There are always a myriad of excuses for industry-altering events like these but I think there is one common reason that transcends them all. They didn’t have a thoughtful and disciplined process to assess the maturity of their current products and services and thereby get a head start on developing their next generation of products and services.


The Business Maturity Lifecycle assessment: A good place to start

To help build a compelling business case for the need to catch the next wave, start by assessing the performance (revenues, margins and profits) of your different lines of business over the past three years and see where they fall on the business maturity lifecycle shown below. If those metrics are growing at 15% – 30% then it is in category B; if it is growing at 5% – 10% then it is in category C; and, if they are flat to declining, then it is in category D. The results of this business maturity assessment will enable companies to prioritize which businesses are prime candidates to try and catch the next wave.

Most well-established companies who conduct this assessment will discover they have multiple businesses that are candidates to catch the next wave. Because critical revenue and profit-generating resources must be diverted from current businesses to fund the launch of the new digital business, you can only undertake one business model transformation at a time. As such, you need to have complete agreement and alignment across the organization to support the business you choose.


How Microsoft is catching the next wave

In many cases, the source of declining performance is the result of the business being impacted by one or more of the new digital disruptive technologies. In my brother, Geoffrey Moore’s, recent book Zone To Win he prescribes a process and set of steps to take on this challenge.

By way of example, let’s look at Microsoft, long the dominant player in enterprise computing, and how it has responded to competitive disruptions to the revenues, margins and profits of its three core businesses – on-premise servers and tools by Amazon’s cloud-based web services; Office desktop software by a myriad of cloud software offers; and, their Windows desktop PC operating systems by Apple and Google’s mobile devices operating systems.

Under the leadership of new CEO, Satya Nadella, the company began a systematic rebooting of each of their core businesses to catch the new cloud and mobile waves. You will note that they are tackling this challenge one business at a time.

They started with their enterprise servers and software business which sold its high margin products and services on an on-premise license basis. They diverted a large percentage of the earnings from that business to invest in building out the Azure cloud business on a lower margin pay-as-you-go subscription model.

They then moved on to the Office software business which provided an on-device license for personal productivity software including email which was supported by an on-premise Exchange business to run the back end. Here again they diverted high margin earnings from the current business to fund the launch of Office 365 on a cloud-based subscription model.

In both these examples, Microsoft made the conscious decision to sacrifice short term margins and earnings in order to gain longer term growth and market share from catching the new waves of digital disruption.

As you can see from the results below, this new approach is beginning to deliver improved operating performance and better financial results. Needless to say, Windows is next in line for its transformational reboot.


Failure is not an option

Let me be perfectly clear that catching the next wave is not for the faint of heart. CEOs, Board of Directors and executive teams across all industries must now confront this leadership challenge and take bold steps to address it some of which I’ve listed below:

  • It requires total commitment to the business model transformation initiative from the top to the bottom of your organization.
  • It requires steadfast resolution not to give into to the pull of short-term performance over the gains of long-term growth.
  • It requires that discretionary performance compensation incentives must be heavily tied to the success of catching the next wave.
  • It requires the tacit understanding that transforming your company into a digital enterprise is, in all likelihood, the single most important decision you will make in your career.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at

In the New Digital World, Employee Engagement is as Important as Customer Engagement

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Most companies today can tell you the approximate lifetime value of their core customers and what they are doing to realize the full potential of that value. How many companies can tell you the lifetime value of their most valued employees and what they are doing get that contribution from them?

Many companies have now adopted the Net Promoter Score metric created and introduced by Frederick Reichheld in 2006 which asks customers, “How likely is it that you would recommend this company ( and its products and services ) to a friend or colleague?” By contrast, how many companies ask their employees, “How likely is that you would recommend to a friend or colleague that they come to work at your company?”

One of the biggest challenges for companies today is to think about their employees the same way they think about their customers. What do you need to do to engage them? What do they need so they can improve their performance faster?  What is the lifetime value of an employee who is highly engaged and able to deliver optimal performance every day?

How many of your employees are highly engaged?

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When you apply Maslow’s hierarchy of needs chart to employee engagement, you see that there are five distinct levels of engagement. As a starting point, if you conduct your own internal employee engagement survey, I suggest you allow the responses to be anonymous, then you can see what percentage of your employees fall into each of the five categories.

As I recently learned, Gallup does its own annual three stage employee engagement survey and the results from 2015 show a continued stagnation in employee engagement.

  • 32% said they were “engaged”
  • 50.8% said they were “not engaged”
  • 17.2% said they were “actively disengaged”

As the chart below confirms, the 2015 survey results mirror the results from the previous four years.

U.S. Employee Engagement, 2011-2015, yearly

The lack of any significant increase in employee engagement over the last five years suggest that a new approach merits consideration.

Rather than treating employees as costs, why not treat them as assets who, when fully developed and equipped can deliver ever-increasing value to the company and its key customers and constituents? In today’s digital enterprise, the old vertically integrated, hierarchical organizational structures have given way to horizontally structured business networks. These new networks require increased demand for communication, coordination and collaboration among peers both internally across the enterprise and externally with customers, supply chain partners and other key constituents. To carry out these new roles employees need new tools:

  • They need to be equipped with the latest cloud, mobile and social media tools at work.
  • They need to have better access to real-time data analytics to help them learn faster than the competition.
  • They need training and development programs that are focused on creating sustainable customer relationships not just efficiently handling customer transactions.  
  • They need to be measured by new metrics that more accurately reflect the increasing value they bring to the organization.
  • They need to be compensated for delivering both short term results and increasing the company’s long term power to grow.

Re-engaging With Your Employees

In order to re-engage with your employees, create customized training and development programs designed to move them from the step they are on to the step above. These programs could include the following:

  1. Validate and document the increased demand for communication, coordination and collaboration among peers both internally across the enterprise and externally with customers, supply chain partners and other key constituents.
  2. Identify the company’s key moments of customer engagement and who represents the company at that engagement.
  3. Determine what social media and technology tools an employee needs to be equipped with in order to create a successful moment of engagement.
  4. Develop a set of metrics that measure the lifetime value of an employee who is fully engaged and able to deliver optimal performance every day.
  5. Develop an employee net promoter score that lets you know how many of your employees would be likely to recommend to their friends and peers that that come to work at your company.
  6. Create customized employee training and development programs designed to move from the step they are on to the step above.

Creating a cultural DNA that breeds full engagement

At the core of any high-performance organization is a culture that expects nothing less than the best that each employee can give and acknowledges and rewards their efforts to achieve that end state. I recently read the book The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown and found that it gets down into the marrow of what it takes to deliver peak performance and total engagement

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On the surface, it tells the story of 9 collegiate rowers and their heroic quest for a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics. Underneath that surface, it tells the story of trust, harmony and total confidence in each other as eloquently described by world renowned rowing shell builder George Yeoman Pocock:

“To be of championship caliber, a crew must have total confidence in each other, able to drive with abandon, confident that no man will get the full weight of the pull. The 1936 crew rowed with abandon, beautifully timed. Having complete confidence in one another they would bound on the stroke with one powerful cut; then ghost forward to the next stroke with the boat running true and hardly a perceptible slowdown. They were a classic example of eight-oar rowing at its very best.”

With their total submission to that kind of teamwork and trust, they represent the very best of what full engagement is all about. As such, I commend this book to anyone who aspires to build that kind of commitment within their organizations. I hasten to add that success in that endeavor will produce transformational results.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at

In the New Digital World, Learning Faster than the Competition is the Only Sustainable Competitive Advantage


Almost every C-level executive I speak with tells me they are so busy doing their business that they have no time to think about their business. Whether it’s the back-to-back to back meeting calendars or the explosion of digital communication tools from e-mail to texting to Twitter to Snapchat, executives at all levels are completely overwhelmed by the demands on their time and their schedules.

In KPMG’s Global CEO Outlook 2016 survey of 400 CEOs, 85% “admit vulnerability about the amount of time they have to spend strategizing about the forces of disruption and innovation.” The consequences of this loss of control is that critical decisions often get made without sufficient understanding of what’s at stake and what tradeoffs should be made to gain the desired outcomes.

Core vs. Context: What are you paying attention to?


In my experience, the one defining factor of a successful leader is someone who can clearly distinguish between what’s important, mission critical core versus what’s urgent, non-mission critical context and has the discipline to spend the majority of their time on the former not the latter. So that begs the question, how do you find that right balance?

You can start by doing your own personal core and context assessment. Go back over your calendar for the last two months and look at how you spent your time and identify each activity as either core or context. Simply put, core is any activity that directly impacts the performance of your company while context are those activities that need to be done but don’t directly impact your company’s performance. This exercise will enable you to get a core and context ratio of what percent of your time is spent in each area. If you’re like the many executives I’ve done this exercise with, you will be surprised by how much of your time context activities consume.

Take an hour a day just to learn

In reading the recent blog by Michael Simmons, co-founder of Empact, I learned that throughout his adult life Benjamin Franklin consistently spent one hour a day in “deliberate learning.” Those activities consisted of:

  • Waking up early to read and write
  • Turning his ideas into experiments
  • Cultivating conversation partners
  • Having morning and evening questions to reflect on

Whatever rituals work for you, the key is to commit to them and carry them out on a daily basis.

Think Weeks, Block Days & “Thinking Thursdays”


When Bill Gates was CEO of Microsoft, he used to take “think weeks” where he would go off by himself to a cabin in the woods and read, try out competitive software and think about the major changes that could potentially disrupt his company’s success. It was on one of these think weeks that he came to the conclusion that Microsoft had to convert to an Internet-compatible business model.

When I worked with Rob Carter, CIO at FedEx, we installed a series of block days on his calendar which allowed him to come to the office with nothing scheduled for the day. This gave him the freedom to choose how best to spend that time including 2 to 3 hour blocks of time to think through a particularly complex issue.

Recently,, the online car buying company, introduced “Thinking Thursdays” for July. Each Thursday, all employees have no meetings so they can focus their full attention on getting their critical work done without interruptions.

Always leave the door open for the unexpected


On the surface, getting control of your time and schedule has multiple benefits. But on a whole other level, you can’t expect to achieve extraordinary outcomes if you haven’t applied your full time and attention to the opportunity or challenge in front of you.

Ed Catmull, President of Pixar Animation and Disney Animation said it very well in his recent book Creativity Inc.:

“In most companies today, you have to justify so much of what you do – you prepare for quarterly earnings statements if the company is publicly traded or, if it is not, to build support for your decisions. I believe, however, that you should not have to justify everything. We must always leave the door open for the unexpected. Scientific research operates in this way – when you embark on an experiment, you don’t know if you will achieve a breakthrough. Chances are you won’t. But nevertheless, you may stumble on a piece of the puzzle along the way – a glimpse, if you will, into the unknown.”

If you agree that learning faster than the competition is the only sustainable competitive advantage, then your company’s future depends on your ability to instill a culture that prioritizes what’s important over what’s urgent. It’s not easy instilling new work habits but with the stakes as high as they are in the new digital world you really don’t have a choice.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at

In the new digital world, you need new people in new seats on the bus

In Jim Collins’ seminal book, Good to Great, he makes a very compelling case that getting the right people in the right seats on the bus is more important than your business growth strategy. While that may seem counterintuitive, in the new digital world I think it makes perfect sense. Why? Because with the level of unprecedented disruption businesses across all industries are facing, companies need leaders who:

  • can deal with ambiguity
  • can make decisions without all the facts
  • can embrace rapid iteration
  • can lead cross-functional/cross enterprise teams
  • can privilege core over context
  • can balance short-term deliverables with long term goals

This is never more true than for the CIO and the senior IT leadership team. Any company trying to transform itself into a digital enterprise must be able to leverage new technologies (Social, Mobile, Cloud, Data Analytics, IoT) as an integral part of this effort. In fact, the CIO will often need to take the lead in communicating the company’s “digital value proposition” to internal stakeholders (business unit heads, product development, sales, marketing, finance, compliance and HR) and external stakeholders as well.

“Houston we have a problem”

For many companies, the current makeup of their technology resources are not aligned with the new skills and capabilities necessary to successfully drive digital transformation.  As the chart below illustrates, the vast majority of current IT resources are allocated to supporting the legacy functions in the left-hand column. While those systems of record still need to be maintained, it’s the new systems of engagement and systems of intelligence in the right-hand column that will drive digital transformation.

In the new digital world, to address this problem, companies need to recruit, develop and retain a whole new set of skills and capabilities that don’t currently exist within the IT organization. For example, companies must embrace an outside-in design thinking approach in order to deliver compelling and enduring customer experiences. That is very different from the traditional inside-out user interface design approach being deployed across most companies today. Don’t get me wrong, this is not an either-or problem it’s a both-and problem. There just has to be a major reweighting of resources to the right-hand side of the aisle.

Achieving Technology Leadership Competency

The other point to make here is that this is not exclusively an IT problem, this is a company-wide problem. IT cannot shoulder the full burden of digital transformation but rather must do it in collaboration with all the other key stakeholders across the enterprise and external partners if necessary. I wrote about this in an earlier blog and made the point that companies have to make all their senior leaders technology savvy and technology conversant.

As such, the CEO needs to take the lead and talk with the CIO and Head of HR about clearly defining the relevant skills and capabilities needed and then how to leverage workforce analytics to improve candidate quality and accelerate their recruitment. In some cases, this will entail identifying current employees who have the desire and aptitude to move into these new roles and with the proper training and development can succeed in them.

As a recent Forrester brief stated, “Access to talent and the ability to hire the right people at the right place will become a huge competitive differentiator.”

Where should we start?

Here are some ideas for how you can start getting your technology resources realigned to support your transformation to a digital enterprise:

  • Identify the relevant skills and capabilities your company will need to compete as a digital enterprise

    • Convert those new skills and capabilities into new job descriptions
  • Assess the current level of those skills and capabilities within your existing workforce

    • Identify any gaps that need to be addressed
  • Provide the necessary training and development tools to close those gaps
    • Reach out to VC firms and startup companies for best practices

For example, companies who want to move to the forefront as a digital enterprise will need:

  • Product managers who can clearly communicate the key customer touch points and how digital interaction will enhance them
  • Business analysts and data scientists who can extract critical insights from mountains of structured and unstructured data
  • User experience design experts and design-oriented content managers who can seamlessly and securely connect systems of engagement with systems of record
  • Development engineers who can exploit the time to value benefits of Agile, Lean or DevOps
  • Business leaders who are comfortable with launching a minimum viable product (MVP) and utilizing rapid iteration to make changes based on end user feedback

The path forward is pretty clear. CIOs and senior IT leaders who develop a comprehensive workforce plan will find, develop and keep the critical new skills needed to drive digital transformation. For those who don’t, they and their teams will be relegated to a caretaker role with little or no influence on the future competitive performance of their organizations.

As always, I am interested in your comments, feedback and perspectives on the ideas put forth in this blog. Please e-mail them to me at