CEOs Must Be in the Digital Transformation Driver’s Seat

Here’s a three-step guide on how to make the changes your company needs.

Businesses with executive leaders who embrace technology achieve better collaboration, higher productivity, and more business agility. But change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. 

CIOs and IT teams are increasingly looking to CEOs to help champion the cause. Support from the highest level of the C-suite can help businesses invest in innovative technology faster, attract better tech talent, and generally position the business for success. 

But first, CEOs have to commit to participating in ongoing or planned tech projects. In the past, CEOs took a backseat in digital transformation—but there’s a strong case for change. 

CIOs Can’t Lead Digital Transformation Alone 

CIOs and IT departments have historically owned the evaluation, acquisition, and implementation of tech, and CEOs had little to no involvement with their company’s tech strategy. They saw it as unrelated to their role. 

Today, this IT-siloed and CEO-distanced approach to digital transformation still holds true in many organizations—and it’s dooming their technology projects. Businesses with minimal CEO involvement are only half as likely to be successful in their digital transformation initiatives, suggesting that their involvement is a necessary and critical part of these efforts. But what should the CEO’s role be, exactly? 

Digital transformation requires company-wide buy-in. The CEO is in the best position to get all stakeholders—from employees to board members—on board with the change. The CEO also has the best cross-functional vantage point into how technology can contribute to overarching business goals. And their hands-on approach can get noticed outside the company as well. CEOs who invest in leading-edge technology are better able to gain the confidence of high-profile investors, business partners, and top talent. 

Company headquarters in San Francisco. Photo courtesy Skedulo.

3 Ways CEOs Can Help Drive Transformation 

Digital transformation is vital to business success and long-term growth. CEOs can no longer take a hands-off approach toward their organization’s technology adoption; a successful transformation depends on it. 

Because technology isn’t always a CEO’s first area of expertise, it’s understandable if you need a guide to help you play the most effective role in digital transformation efforts. Here is what we know works:

1. Maintain alignment across the C-suite: It is your responsibility to ensure the entire C-suite is aligned with the company’s technology acquisition efforts. Over 70% of digital transformation efforts do not achieve their objectives, largely due to resistance from leadership. Dedicate time in leadership meetings to discussions of technology-related goals. Likewise, work to create an environment in which new ideas are welcomed and those in the C-suite can become evangelists for digital solutions in their respective focus areas. This ensures that when it’s time to make big decisions about investments and operations, you’ll be on the same page.

2. Experiment with new technologies: Digital transformation requires trial and error to find the solutions that work best for your organization. And given that technology is always evolving, digital transformation is a never-ending journey. Don’t fear failure. Stay on top of the latest tech trends in your industry and pilot new technologies—keeping only what works. During the pandemic, organizations that experimented with new digital solutions were twice as likely to report outsized revenue growth. But you can’t win if you don’t play the game.

3. Stay the course: Though it’s important to be agile, once you make a decision you need to stay the course. The J-curve theory claims that when change occurs things will get worse in the short term before they get better in the long term. This certainly applies to digital transformation. When you adopt new technologies and processes, you must see the adjustment period through to the end. As CEO, encourage your employees to view the dip in the digital transformation J-curve as a temporary adjustment period. Explain that it is natural to experience initial headaches, but ultimately the changes will improve their job roles and yield long-term benefits.

Given the strategic importance of technology to business, CEOs must make digital transformation a top priority. If technology isn’t embedded into your business strategy and culture, your organization can’t compete. When CEOs play a closer role in technology, they ensure there’s alignment across the organization, necessary investment in digital solutions, and an ongoing culture of innovation—all essential to digital transformation success.

Matt Fairhurst is co-founder and CEO of Skedulo.

Top: Photos courtesy Skedulo. Photo illustration by Adriana Mejia / CSQ.