THE BLOG
11/15/2013 11:11 am ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

CIOs: 7 Ways To Remain Relevant And Deliver Customer Value

"One of the biggest assets in anyone's life is a generous network. It is a gift that grows simply by sharing it," said Deborah Mills-Scofield, in one of my favorite Harvard Business Review blogs. The power of your network is directly proportional to market relevance. In this age of technology, CIOs are constantly being questioned about their relevancy. I asked Mills-Scofield, who helps companies create and implement highly actionable, adaptable, measurable and profitable innovation-based strategic plans why this is. Historically CIOs have not been good at providing a business case for why they exist, said Mills-Scofield. "In today's world if you can't tell me why, then why should I? CIOs need to provide value," says Mills-Scofield. The results of a recent TechPro Research survey finding major inconsistencies between the views of CIOs on their relevancy versus the perspectives of their colleagues' backs up Mills-Scofield's opinion that CIOs need to do a better job at raising their visibility within organizations. Just like any organization IT must prove why they exist and according to Mills-Scofield, CIOs have not been very good at telling that story and giving their value proposition.

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Deb Mills-Scofield

When it comes to telling stories, Mills-Scofield is hands-down one of the best storytellers I know. She has shared her stories on innovation at BIF9, as a top 40 blogger on innovation and as a co-creator and contributor to many books including Alex Osterwalder's book, Business Model Generation. In addition to being the owner of Mills-Scofield, LLC, she is a partner at Glengary LLC, an early-stage Venture Capital firm in Cleveland.

Mills-Scofield recently shared her pearls of wisdom with me and my fingers could not type fast enough as every word out of her mouth was a tweet in the making! Here she shares what she has learned from her 25+ years of strategic planning, execution and innovation experience with manufacturing, service and high-technology companies.

If you are a C-level executive at a large, global company or if you are in the early stages just starting up, you can't afford not to read Mills-Scofield's expert advice on how to remain relevant and deliver true value to your customers.

7 Ways to Remain Relevant and Deliver Value to Customers:

1. Don't ignore business model change - Business model change is important because our world is moving so fast that the shelf life of a business model could be less than a year. A business model captures the essence of innovation - which is essentially taking things that already exist and putting them together in different ways. Business model innovation forces you to think about things differently and how to combine things in new ways.

Most companies are naturally pre-disposed to think about products and services or features and functions vs. innovating how they manage. Mills-Scofield notes that by nature younger entrepreneurs embrace the business model more readily because they are more collaborative by nature and they are used to having a variety of ways to get information, so the business model is a natural fit.

2. Walk a day in your customer's shoes - There's a reason why these catch phrases stick around for generations, and it's because they are usually true. The business model canvas is made up of 9 blocks. The middle is value proposition and customer segments: What is the value the customers in those segments really want and can you actually deliver it? It's not about what you think the customer needs, but what they actually need and if they think it's a great value proposition. It's asking what it is the customer wants verses what you think they ought to have.

The way to find out starts with putting ourselves in our customer's shoes. Mills-Scofield tells us to put our biases aside and watch our customers. To live a day in their lives means really looking at things from their perspective and thinking of ourselves as customers. How would you want to be treated? "Wouldn't it be nice if we thought of ourselves and the way we want to be treated when we are consumers?" asks Mills-Scofield.

3. Look from the outside, in - Mills-Scofield uses the last name of the most important Spanish artist of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries for the acronym she created, GOYA, or Get Off Your A$$. She is talking literally, as in beat the street. She says you cannot walk in your customer's shoes if you are sitting behind your desk. You have to get out of the office and be a human being. She advises going to conferences that are not in your industry and trying to re-create the customer experience from trying to find yourself, to ordering from yourself, to calling your customer service. "Getting out of the office to see the world and live like your customer and see things through their eyes, could be eye opening," says Mills-Scofield, who when investing her time in younger start-ups gives the advice to experience, learn, apply and iterate. According to her, if you stop doing this you'll die.

4. Always tie technology (and everything) back to the strategy of the business - CIOs should fundamentally understand the business that their company is in and their view should not be limited to technology. CIOs need to ask: "How do I help the company achieve its strategic goals (which I should have been involved in creating) and how can I align my organization to help the business achieve the strategy?" This was a key theme in my recent talk with Andi Karaboutis, CIO of Dell.

Mills-Scofield says, "In this age of technology and BYOD, the IT division of a company might not always know IT the best." Often times, IT has never proactively sought to give the business case for why they exist and they can't always show the ROI, which is dependent on people using the technology. The fault is not on the technology, it is on the execution. To make their value clear, anything that IT does must be tied to the business. IT needs to ask: "If the goals of the company are X, Y and Z, how can technology make that happen?" Technology has no value until it's applied and by following the experiment, learn, apply, iterate model you may end up using something in ways you never thought you could.

5. Treat your employees like adults - Mills-Scofield is amazed by how many companies do not allow their people access to Facebook. She says in her HBR blog that control is for beginners; control is an illusion and a delusion, "Are you hiring 10-year olds? No, these are adults. If they are out surfing the web all day then you have bigger problems. That is a symptom, not a root cause." She is equally amazed at how uncommon common sense is: "If you treat your employees like kids they will act like kids, if you treat them like adults, then maybe they will act like adults!"

6. Ask if there a market for it and what is the value - At the VC firm she partners at, they are always looking for proof of market. Will people actually buy this? To Mills-Scofield, one of the key drivers is the business model and the CMO, which she refers to as the Chief Market Officer for having a part in identifying the markets that the company should be in. This drives everything else - what are the pain points, why, could we solve them, how, do we have what it takes to solve them?

A lot of marketers tend to focus on metrics when the real thing to focus on is what is the underlying value that the company is providing to the customer - what are the capabilities, how does this align with what the customer actually wants and how they want to get it? It is a matter of efficiency over effectiveness. You can be really efficient but if you are not effective you just wasted a lot of time and resources doing something that doesn't really matter. You have to be providing meaning and purpose; something that the customer really wants and needs.

7. Lead with humble confidence - Mills-Scofield's clients who have created and executed the best strategic plans all have a humble and confident leadership style in common. Mills-Scofield says that great leaders look at things from an "I and thou" framework - an idea from the late philosopher, Martin Buber. The framework is based on the thinking that "I am the steward of this organization and it is my responsibility to ensure that we do the right things for our customers and our people." She says the best leaders are curious of the world around them and what their customers and employees lives are like and they bring this together with their team and then align.

Mills-Scofield practices what she preaches and with the thinking that if you realize that someone helped you to get to where you are, it becomes easier for you to be humble and give credit, she asks clients to match 10% of her fee and give that away to improve lives in their community. She also asks them to mentor to another entrepreneur because "for who much is given, much is required" - which she means in a joyful, good-hearted way.

In what was an inspiring, educational and entirely too fast 60 minutes, Mills-Scofield saved the best piece of advice for last. She shared that as a venture capitalist the number one criteria for investing in a start-up is the character and integrity of the people: We will take an A team with a B product any day over a bunch of mediocre people with the best product, said Mills-Scofield. The bottom line: It's always about the people and integrity is the core.

You can watch the full interview with Deb Mills-Scofield here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman every Friday at 3PM as we host CXOTalk - connecting with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields.