Discussions with Financial industry trend setter, Michelle Brigman.

Now that we have set the stage for these discussions it’s time to start creating a list of the DNA essential for leadership to navigate the turbulent but rewarding waters of Digital Transformation. As part of this I thought it would be good to talk to women and men across industries to get their perspectives. Did they view this the same way? What DNA has enabled them to succeed when others struggle? So where better to start than with Citi Group’s Director of Customer Listening and Engagement, Michelle Brigman. Michelle has been recognized multiple times around her thought leadership in driving Data and transformational approaches within the global Financial Services firm, including being nominated for a 2017 Tech Titan award.

Michelle and I had a chance to talk about this idea of DNA that enabled people to be successful in this world of transformation driven through what “digital” enables. We discussed DNA and compared that to Skills or Experience. How were they linked and were they different. Could you really develop “new” DNA. Did DNA become sharper through Experience and could Experience and DNA be heightened by new skills. And what DNA enabled her to be so successful in helping change the way an organization the size and scale of Citi to really drive valued outcomes one customer at a time?

While Michelle and I agreed the DNA, Skills and Experience are really the three legs of what is ultimately required, she also agreed that DNA is the enabler at the core of her success. When you move through the detail of our discussion what came to the forefront of her DNA, that wasn’t a class or role, but an inherent capacity that has served as the foundation for success included these five:

  • Deep rooted curiosity: Michelle, like myself and many others, are finding that having Inquisitive DNA is extremely helpful to transform oneself, and then to help others transform. Learning is not something you do to prepare for a new job in today’s disruptive world. Learning is something that has to be rooted in your ethos because every day you need to be asking questions, exploring possibilities and to be open to diverse perspectives. We are moving from the idea of everything being how to create one better step in the process (CMM, ISO-9000, Six Sigma, etc.) to how can we look at the business model from a completely new perspective. This requires you to be instinctively curious, be inquisitive and have a voracious appetite for learning.
  • Capacity for connections: It is imperative that you possess the inherent ability to connect ideas and people through Emotional Quotient. IQ is important, there is no question, but so many of the challenges in transforming how you work, what you do, how you serve customers, that connecting the dots through an empathetic ability is key. It isn’t enough just to know someone’s role but what motivates them, how they’re incented and then to align your goals and to help the see a path to success. If not your change agent process hits walls that will impede or kill the path that you envisioned. I do believe you can learn this but as Michelle highlighted in our discussion this was something she was doing starting on the playground as a child.
  • Innate problem solver: Michelle and I both agreed that solving complex problems has to be in the DNA of today’s executives. You have to love the challenge of them, to welcome them, to see success in the task of solving them. I think here too is the openness to diverse perspectives. Do you seek as much information from as many different angles to allow you to see outside the bounds of your own experience and skills. So this is the combination of your capacity to think logically but to challenge logic through various perspectives. I was good at math because I loved the “art” of math and I was inherently good at solving problems. This is equally as true when you are transforming through digital and as an Executive. It isn’t about solving problems in a linear way either, it’s chess not checkers.
  • Pragmatic intuition: Often times Michelle and I both saw instances where the change was so great that the organization couldn’t get their minds around it and thus support to even start vanished or never even manifested itself. This could be because of how people are paid, or organized, or simply the DNA of the individuals. It is imperative that Executives work across their peers to find pragmatic steps to achieve the audacious goals, and sometimes company saving initiatives, that wouldn’t otherwise see the light of day. CFO’s have to work with Sales to think how the P&L can shift as the battle for Opex and Capex change. CMO’s have to work with CIO and CFO counterparts to create new ways to define a business case but do so in ways that create near term success that can be attributed and thus keep people aligned. HR leaders have to re-examine who they hire, how they develop and how they too work with their C-Suite because HR isn’t just about your silo any more…but the starting point can’t be so grandiose that the FUD of it stops it dead in its tracks.
  • Natural story telling: This is one of the most critical elements of DNA in this new world we see. Most, I believe wouldn’t have this on their list to evaluate current or new C-Suite talent. But if you think about what has to be done in organizations today – shifting P&L’s and fiefdoms built over decades, organizational silos needing to collapse, new ways to leverage data that challenges the reporting and metrics used across the company or who owned customer experience, technology or both. This requires Executives to tell both customers, shareholders, employees, peers and partners the stories that create genuine alignment. As that alignment is achieved the fly wheel can begin – bottom up in ground swell, top down in support, better integration across channels and a belief system from Board Member to the lowest level Individual Contributors. Story telling can be honed. Many people are much better on their 5th TED talk than they were in their first, but they had the DNA to tell the story, regardless of their audience.

I believe there are more but these were the ones that stood out to Michelle through our discussion. Welcome your thoughts as well.

Next up is Scott Brinker, VP of Platform Ecosystem for Hubspot. Others that will be a part of this are Brad Wilson, CMO of Lending Tree, Dustin Engel, GM Advanced Media Team, Analytics and Data Science of the award winning agency PMG, and others. Will be adding C-Suite perspectives from Finance, Operations, Sales and more to this discussion soon!