So, we’re all familiar with the classic relationship book, “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” but does the same apply to CIOs and CMOs? Are CIOs really Martians and CMOs from Venus?
That’s the belief of Rich Karlgaard, author of the new book, “The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success,” published by Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint and available through the author’s website. He believes, “Corporate America has a dogs vs. cats problem—or perhaps a “Mars vs. Venus” problem is more appropriate. And mutual disdain and squabbling prevent the collaboration needed to thrive in a tough global economy. But can anything be done about it?”
Karlgaard says, “As I learned from Forrester Research’s Sheryl Pattek, most CMOs think their CIOs are jargon-speaking nerds with no sense of market urgency, while CIOs think CMOs are ignorant fakers when it comes to technology more complex than a PowerPoint slide show.”
Maybe Karlgaard deals in generalities such as, “Dig deeper and you start to see stark differences between CMOs and CIOs. CMOs tend to be female while CIOs tend to be male, so you have a War of the Sexes going on. Then, you realize CMOs are liberal arts types while CIOs are technologists.” But where he does best is when he focuses on the specific thing driving a wedge between CIOs and CMOs. He says, “The CMO-CIO divide is exacerbated by the rise of web commerce and social media.These new marketing channels mean CMOs command a growing share of their company’s investment in technology, and CIOs are none too happy about that.”
Wondering what the title of his book means? What is the soft edge? To understand it, he explains, picture a triangle. Great strategy makes up the base. Masterful execution makes up one of the triangle’s two vertical sides or what he would term the “hard edge.” It’s the third side of the triangle—the oft-neglected, misunderstood, and underfunded soft edge—that defines Karlgaard’s book.
“Most C-suites and shareholders speak the language of the hard edge: metrics, analytics, logistics, strategies, and a well-defined and easy-to-see ROI,” says Karlgaard. “But today’s turbulent marketplace has taken much of the bite out of the hard edge. What can be measured and quantified can also be analyzed and copied by the competition.
“Look around and you’ll see the companies that have achieved soft edge excellence—the FedExes, Apples, and NetApps of the world—are thriving, while others flounder in our uneven and unforgiving recovery,” he adds. “A strong soft edge makes a company resilient and agile— even in the face of the occasional C-suite disagreement.”
Karlgaard points to NetApp, the $6.5 billion vendor of computer network storage solutions, which regularly makes Clayton Christensen’s list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies and a number of the best-places-to-work lists as an example of a company with a strong soft edge. (Maybe because the CIO and CMO are both females, which negates his war of the sexes theory.)
“To stay ahead of the curve,” Karlgaard says, “[CMO Julie] Parrish and [CIO Cynthia] Stoddard regularly meet to discuss trends in predictive analytics, sentiment analysis, and other valuable information. This requires a healthy CMO-CIO relationship.”
It’s that collaboration that helps the two sides bridge their inter-planetary differences, Karlgaard believes. “No company survives solely based on its marketing, its technology, its operations, or any other factor,” says Karlgaard. “The company functions as a whole. In order to be successful, C-suite leaders cannot get bogged down in their own department’s issues. Every leader must recognize that the company’s overall needs matter more than an individual department’s.”