I just read about an intriguing signal about incumbent big retailers. The TL;DR is that companies like Nordstrom or CVS are increasingly tweaking their C-suites structures by naming executives at specific roles to adjust to the explosive growth of e-commerce.
Does it read like 2012 news? Kind of.
Here's the article:
I wrote years ago that the digital revolution was over and that just as you don't need a Chief Electricity Officer, you shouldn't need a Chief Digital Officer anymore.
Naming a specific executive in charge of digital tends to make someone "it" and tells the rest of the organization that it's less their problem. Does it mean sales and marketing will be less concerned with digital now? We met this syndrome in the nineties when companies were trying to implement Quality management by making someone "it." Some critical problems should be shared by every execs, with some nuances for sure, but as a collective nonetheless.
So when you read that CVS (2021 revenues about $292 billion) is bombarding someone as Chief Data, Digital, and Technology Officer – obviously not even knowing how to name him – you might be worried, not celebrate. We can already anticipate next quarter's promotion as Chief Data, Digital, Technology, and Metaverse Officer, aren't we?
Even more puzzling, if you ask me, is having a brand new Chief Customer Officer at retailers like Target ($106B), Nordstrom (a measly $14.8B), and Walgreens ($132.5B) or – I kid you not – a Chief Mom Officer at a children's apparel company. Give me a break! Shouldn't this announcement make everyone nervous about the message it sends?
To quote an interviewee in the article above:
I do see C-suite roles continue to be new and different. I also expect them to be unique to the retailer and to really give us an idea of what a retailer wants to focus on.
Yes, it does indeed. The focus is confusion.
And don't get me wrong, as also listed in this article, a Chief Metaverse Officer at Disney does make sense to me, though. Even if I believe the metaverse is mostly a diversion, it does make sense for a mega-entertainment company not to ignore Facebook on this "bet" and appoint someone to explore options and hedge against the future.
If, by default, seeing in 2022 Chief Digital or Innovation Officers is a big red flag, I don't think having such an exec is a de facto mistake, but it does highlight a cultural deficit at the scale of the company. The real question is whether the company acknowledges it and has a plan or if, as I said earlier, the board just wants to make someone "it."
In that regard, Instacart appointing a new Chief Architect to regroup their technology structuration and accelerate product rollouts does make tons of sense. In that case, it's less of an ethereal and overarching responsibility and more of leading a collective through a critical project.
Boring? Maybe. But practical.