Does Your Digital CxO Have The Right Bonus Hook?

There has been a lot of talk on the topic of aligning incentives to the company strategy but what happens when that strategy is nebulous itself? What happens when the overt goals of the organization are stuck in McKinsey slides hell while its real needs, clear to one and all don’t make the official cut? Or worse yet, what happens when the slides with the priorities have caught up but the execs in charge of them have their strongest motivation set completely decoupled from them?

Who are these execs? Digital CxOs.

First let me tell you who a “Digital CxO” is: every leader in an organization that should be offering any of its products or services to consumers in a digital way.

Yes the CIO or CTO and of course the CEO but the CDO, the COO and CFO and really any other C’s and O’s in an organization that should be transforming to become digital.

In natively digital organizations tying the incentive to tangible transformation isn’t necessary, they come to the table equipped with the deep understanding that change is a continuous state they are in and they proudly embrace it.

Companies that require any transformation though have by definition been around for a while and often times have older leaders who are inflexible and unwilling to execute on meaningful change for fear of unsecuring their position. Execs that so badly want to keep the boat for rocking, convinced that it’s only smooth sailing that will deliver them to their personal yacht that they weigh it down with sacks of legacy and red tape transforming it into a nearly static monument to the lack of true progress.

So the cloud strategy gets delayed, the new business models wait for another day, becoming Agile and embracing DevOps is a secondary goal for man-bunned developers, cultural transformations and new ways of work are little more than lip service and anything truly transformational has to wait.

And then when that happens, irrespective what shareholder reports may claim, progress for the organization de facto stops, leaving it vulnerable to the fate of any other giant unwilling to innovate – being outperformed or indeed kicked out of the market.

In many companies where that happens, the only solution the despondent younger pack of leaders in the company see is waiting for these other execs to leave. For the guard to change. For others to come in and be willing to risk, to dare, to put themselves on the line.

The only way for the organization to counteract this insidious CxO mandated paralysis short of firing them all and hiring new young blood in their spot (which would intuitively sound sane and possible, but then the sad statistics of how it never fully happens across the board in any big company sets in) is to do some good old-fashioned incentive re-alignment.

Considering what counts to these otherwise brilliant individuals is getting out of the rats’ race and that they can finally see the finishing line in sight and that it is that vision they are protecting by keeping the boat from rocking, the company should redefine the way to make it happen by tying their ability to get there to their ability to affect change.

“Want that retirement bonus? Move us fully to the cloud by 2020.”

“Counting on that going-away performance incentive? Make us Agile.”

“Extra gift basket for “truly Agile”

“Want to get your wrapping up package? Change the way we work.”

“Increase Psychological Safety across the board to see your lump sum”

There are few organizations in which ripping one of the above verbatim and using it asap wouldn’t make a major difference to their course. That is how widely spread of needs and how common of issues we are facing now in any industry that has to embrace digital.

One thing that the above all have in common is that they are the equivalent of the “give a man a fish” saying.

Asking a CxO to deliver a new mobile app, increase sign-ups online, transform internal process or any other common staple of digitization found in many a goals’ list today means we are asking them to give the company a fish. A fish that will undoubtedly start going bad before it even hits the press release leave alone by the time it reaches the consumer and makes a real impact.

The examples above construct sustainable paths ahead that future-proof an organization to rapidly changing technology and consumer expectations instead of reaching a temporary destination for the sake of ticking a box.

If you want real transformation that lasts – get your executives on the hook for building you a fishing rod not catching you a fish.

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