Culture Eats Strategy at the Summit

This month, HT hosts its 11th annual Restaurant Executive Summit, an event that expands well beyond technology. In fact, the Summit isn’t about any one discipline. It’s about the intersection of them all: marketing, technology, operations, finance and service. It’s where senior-level leaders from across the enterprise meet to spark and spar over new ideas.

This year, an executive panel tackles the topic, “Follow Which Leader? Shifting Influences and New Executive Roles.” HT charged them with a discussion on the rise of the Chief Digital Officer, its role in restaurant leadership, and its potential threat to CIOs. If you’re wondering about the latter, check out the Forbes article, “Why the Rise of the CDO Role Represents a Power Grab,” by technology contributor Dan Woods. In it, Woods unapologetically calls CIOs shameful if they allow newly-minted CDOs to assume control over technology priorities and budgets. The ground they’re taking, he argues, is central to the function of the CIO. “The CDO has emerged as the leader of reshaping the business to take advantage of data and technology. The CDO is customer-focused, concerned with how to make the products and services of the company more digital.”

For restaurants, customer-centricity in its senior leaders is desirable. The experience a customer has at any given restaurant may not be listed on the menu, but it’s certainly part of the sale. Yet even the best-conceived digital engagement projects require a solid technology framework. This month’s cover story on Panera 2.0 is a prime example. Panera CIO John Meister recalls: “There was a great vision for a customer-centric design. When I started asking questions, I discovered there was a good deal of technical work to be done.” The handshake between digital and tech played out well at Panera, in no small part because of corporate culture.
In preparation for the Summit panel discussion, one executive reminded us of how important culture will be in the emerging interplay between leaders. Culture will eat strategy for breakfast, the panelist remarked. Let’s hope that CDOs, as ambassadors of culture, don’t do the same to their strategy-minded brethren.

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