Sandeep Dadlani, our Chief Digital Officer, recently talked with the WSJ about failures, successes and key learnings while leading 125,000-plus Mars Associates through a digital transformation—and a pandemic. Here’s an excerpt of what he shared.
How did you come to be the CDO of Mars?
In 2017, the visionary Mars Leadership Team wanted to signal to the world its serious commitment to digital transformation; their digital agenda — to move “100 times faster” — was ambitious, yet Mars was one of the most human companies I’d ever experienced. I wanted to be a part of the unique culture and values at Mars, and the elevated digital mandate sealed the deal.
A traditional consumer package goods company moving “100 times faster” is an ambitious vision — why the need for that kind of speed?
Being a large, successful company is great, but it can make you less agile. Mars leadership saw digital as an enabler of speed. They knew they could make incremental changes and go 10% or 20% faster, but they believed the digital world would demand an exponentially larger change.
What are some steps you’re taking to reach this goal?
Moving to extreme consumer-centricity has been key. We assembled a team of associates to meet with consumers every week to unlock new unmet or unstated needs. That helped us frame every problem very differently. Our old-school thinking — complex problems and three-to five-year solutions — went out the window in favor of much shorter solutions to unique new problems. Reorienting around the consumer has been the single biggest factor in tearing down legacy business and technology silos in all large organizations.
How did the pandemic impact your approach?
We have more than 125,000 Associates, and our top concern was their safety and well-being. We used analytics to help us determine when and how to reopen our facilities like factories and vet hospitals safely. The same analytics capability gave us visibility into our inventory and supply chain to help us get our products to consumers faster. We completed 50 unique launches, or springs, in the first year of COVID-19 and are teed up for another 50. But our innovation wasn’t just analytics-driven. We donated snack boxes to frontline workers and accelerated telehealth services for veterinarians and virtual adoptions for pet shelters.
Failure is not an option: True or false?
Look, failure has been romanticized by some digital leaders. I’m not one of them. Some of our sprints have failed, some have been okay, and others have taken off. We would like to fail less. It’s a continuous journey, and we are still learning.
Any advice for scrappy digital leaders?
You need to have an almost irrational belief in the spirit of human hustle, and an understanding that making fast talent decisions is critical. You can spew all the digital gobbledygook you want, but the sooner you get the right talent with the right hustle in place, the better.
Read Sandeep’s The Wall Street Journal interview in its entirety here.