Head Of User Experience: The New Role For The Modern CEO

In today’s world, the relentless advance of connectivity and technology has changed the business landscape. Adaptability, agility and responsiveness are all words becoming increasingly common in an age where failure to act or to see the next big play can result in catastrophic collapse. Where average life-expectancy of a Fortune 500 firm has fallen to less than 15 years (Forbes.com), adapt or die is a mantra that should be heard in every boardroom.

The only way to truly adapt and be in a position to respond in a rapidly changing environment is through insight – being plugged in to the information directly at the source. Customers know best what they want and those best positioned to gain that information in an organization are those closest to the customer.

In a traditional hierarchical triangle, decision-making power is weighted heavily at the top, with the CEO, the place in the organization furthest from the customer. To get information to the CEO takes levels of communication, committee and time, over which important points can easily get lost in translation. By the time the information reaches the point of decision, it’s either too late or too inaccurate to truly be useful.

Conversely, if information is allowed to flow through an organization openly between any two (or more) points, it can get to where it needs to be directly and enable great decision making, fueling future success. It’s not pulling the rug from beneath the corporate structure, but more opening up the flow of information within it, so the insight can be where it needs to be when it needs to be, so action can be taken in a timely fashion.

“Far from sitting back and waiting for information to eventually reach them to make decisions, senior executives need take responsibility for ensuring it’s available and flowing.”

Therefore, today, the CEO needs to get more involved to ensure that happens. Far from sitting back and waiting for information to eventually reach them to make decisions, senior executives need to be taking responsibility for ensuring it is available and flowing. Their role is to connect the business with the insight available from people inside and outside the organization. Essentially, the executive team is responsible for creating a platform.

Insight, when applied to a range of perspectives and collaborations, creates innovation and ideas. The expertise to apply that insight to actions rests with those actually doing the jobs. But the CEO needs not only to create the platform, but to continue to develop it in a way that ensures it serves the people of the organization to function in the most optimal way.

Rather than the board being served by the organization, the board must serve the people. Airbnb was one of the first to recognize this shifting role with the creation of a Head of Employee Experience, although the true opportunity lies in taking this one step further.

By creating a platform where everyone can do their best work and make the greatest contribution to the success of the business, while allowing information to flow freely to where it needs to be, leaders can truly create an adaptive, responsive and agile system that serves the customers, despite their changing demands. If the CEO sits at the head of creating this platform, their role is to oversee the optimal experience for the users of the organizational platform – people (customers and employees). The CEO is the Head of User Experience (UX) for the platform.

It’s time to stop trying to build businesses to old rules, because the old rules don’t work in the new world. Build platforms for people, because thriving organizations are populated by thriving people. The benefits, risks and rewards are too great to ignore.

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Andy Swann
Andy Swann, author of THE HUMAN WORKPLACE, leads the development and delivery of people-focused transition management at BDG Architecture + Design. He is also the founder of Simple Better Human, a creative organization development consultancy. Swann runs the All About People conference and speaks around the world on the benefits of taking a more human approach to organizational development. For more information, please visit www.AndySwann.co.

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