7 Eleven CDO: Expect Leadership Churn with Digital Transformation

A successful digital transformation requires the “churn” of up to 20% of an organization's middle-ranking leadership, according to the Chief Digital Officer of the 7 Eleven Inc.

Speaking at a CDO Summit in Sydney in March 2018, Gurmeet Singh said that organizations needed to understand that some of their people could only help to take them so far on their transformational journey.

"I see Chief Executive Officers getting caught up in a sense of loyalty, but at the same time we need to get this transformation done, and some of these people may not be able to take us to the next levels," said Singh, who joined 7 Eleven in 2017 as CDO and has since become the Chief Information Officer as well.

“If you are not churning 15 to 20% of your leadership through a transformation you are not looking hard enough, and you are not doing enough,” he added.

Singh noted that this “churn” does not apply to middle-ranking leadership only. It should also include top management and even the CDO, who he argued should have a limited tenure.

Also, top leadership should be able to “reinvent itself.” It requires an ability to overturn historic and long-held strategies. “Any successful CDO should be working in the role assuming they will be getting themselves out of their job in three years,” Singh said.

“Because if they are successful then digital would have seeped into the organization and you don’t need that role anymore.”

Singh likened the necessary personnel turnover with the need for organizations to “sweep away” their legacy systems as they pursue transformation.

“The number one thing is that you have to look at this in a very radical fashion,” Singh said. "It might change your business model, and unless you take this approach, then you are not really embracing the transformation.”

“My number one thing was to go ‘full stack.' If you think ‘full stack’ you will think about how to change your legacy IT infrastructure, because it will get in your way,” he added.

7 Eleven’s transformation, Singh noted, was all about supercharging the “convenience experience” for customers.

“We defined convenience, and now we are redefining it,” he said, after outlining 7 Eleven’s eight-decade history as an organization.

In 2017, 7 Eleven embarked on digital transformation. It included innovations around smartphone apps where customers could order ahead and pick up pre-packed purchases or have them delivered.

It also extended to concepts that use geospatial technology for delivering to curbsides, enabling drone deliveries, integrating with CCTV to read vehicle license plates to know when customers arrive for pick-ups, and allowing customers to pay through their own devices rather than using in-store devices that require queuing.

"What is the most convenient store for the customer?" Singh asked. “In the US, 50% of the population lives within one mile of a 7 Eleven [store], but today the most convenient store for the customer is the phone. It is redefining what convenience is."