Aaron Goldman, CMO, Mediaocean
The modern C-suite has a lot to contend with. This would be true even without the disruption and economic uncertainty arising from political- and pandemic-related events. By now, it’s a cliché to say that every company is becoming a technology company – but that doesn’t change the fact that business leaders are being asked to keep pace with rapid change simultaneously with their traditional role in the company. While members of the C-suite may attain their positions, in part through years of experience, that now has to be married with the ability to spot when experience is out of date and experimentation is needed.
All of this, of course, was supercharged by the onset of a pandemic which left nothing the same, and the Boston Consulting Group highlighted this last summer in an article arguing that we need to make learning a key boardroom competency. A focus on learning in a time of change will, they argue, lead to the creation of the “bionic company’ which fuses human and machine capabilities – and it’s an argument that rings true. We shouldn’t, however, think of this only in terms of a challenge or a problem for businesses: this technological acceleration also means we’ll be able to do things previously impossible. In fact, I don’t know about you, but what the word ‘bionic’ brings to my mind first is not executive meetings, but a futuristic hero with special powers and a cape.
Over the last year, I’ve been increasingly been thinking of the C-suite as a kind of superhero team that rises up against challenges and inspires unity within the organisation. This was made visible by the extraordinary events of the last year, when leaders were frequently called upon to go above and beyond in response to what was happening in the world. I’m thinking in particular of the CMO and CFO, who have been face-to-face with the most abrupt areas of change. For marketers, adapting to the needs of consumers who themselves have had their lives turned upside down has required real, rapid innovation. On the finance front, the shifting economic sands have needed faster analysis, using more accurate data to manage the business.
For both of these roles, the skills and tools acquired through the pandemic will fortify them for the future. And while the superpowers may stop short of x-ray vision, there is a light emerging at the end of the tunnel for human health and it’s clear that the pace of change will not slow. Looking ahead, the easing of restrictions should be seen as an opportunity to build back differently, and the daily experience of technology inside businesses should not simply revert back after a year of remote working.
One thing that will revert as we return to steadier ground, however, is that the planning horizon will lengthen, and businesses will again be in a position to plan proactive strategy, not just reactive tactics for the current changeable context. In order to do that successfully, these leaders will need to take the learning they’ve done and make it available to others across the organisation. While Boston Consulting Group rightly focus on building learning into the workflow across the business, there is something more to be said about increasing understanding within the boardroom.
Where companies have already had deep collaboration between CMOs and CFOs, new practices and new assumptions need to be communicated. Where companies haven’t built those lines of cooperation, now is the perfect time to bring the beginning and the end of the revenue journey into closer alignment. And, of course, it’s critical to do this without quibbling about who is the superhero and who is the sidekick – it’s more like The Avengers coming together.
The first requirement for good C-suite collaboration will be a shared understanding of terms and ideas. Sometimes, this will mean shifting your own perspective: CMOs, for example, may need to get comfortable converting their KPIs into more revenue-relevant numbers if they’re to sing from the same hymn sheet as the CFO. Likewise, CFOs will feel the benefit if they contextualise their work in terms which are familiar to other business functions. With smarter, digitised approaches to data, figures like cost per acquisition, return on loyalty, and retention metrics can help deliver that.
Second, collaboration will happen from a place of greater trust and mutual understanding when it operates from a shared dataset. A monthly marketing report is one thing for the CFO; being able to look at real-time intelligence on how marketing is feeding into revenue is quite another. A unified platform which can bring this data together and create actionable insights can place everyone in the mindset where collaborating is the default, rather than an additional task which may or may not be required of them.
Third, collaboration should be built on commitments around how decisions will be taken. When cross-function communication can too often be taken as an FYI, agreeing to drive enterprise value on the basis of shared, mutually understood data ensures that the work needed to establish a collaborative system actually has real-world outcomes. This is where interpersonal efficiency becomes bottom-line growth. After all, it’s no good shining the bat-signal at the clouds if Batman is just going to make up his own mind about whether to respond to a crime.
When everything is set up properly, C-suite executive should feel empowered like a superhero, with the full power of the organisation at their fingertips. From there, the next logical step, as Hollywood has taught us, is the big crossover event where those superheroes team up to achieve greater things.