All Posts by Scott Smeester

The Once And Future CIO-CTO

I’m taking the gloves off. I’m raising my voice in victory.

The 2018 State of the CIO Survey is out as reported by CIO.com. 

  • 71% of IT and LOB (Lines of Business) collaborate more frequently.
  • 88% understand the CIO-CTO role to be more digital and innovation focused, with top priority focus being strategic, transformational and then functional.
  • 88% are involved in transformation efforts, including business alignment, IT and business partnership and change leadership.
  • 49% of LOB now consider IT a strategic adviser.
  • CEO’s are now looking for the CIO-CTO to upgrade IT and data security to avoid cyber-attacks, to reach specific revenue growth goals and to lead digital business initiatives. 
  • IT and LOB are giving top priority to increase operational efficiency, improve customer experience and increase cyber-security precautions.

I have been fighting for this. Let the keywords and buzzwords stand out: Collaboration. Digital Transformation. Adviser. Partnership.

#collaboration
#digitaltransformation
#adviser
#partnership

Yes!

This is what I do: I contend for you so that you work boldly, rest easily and maximize every opportunity. And the opportunity to maximize: To raise your position as a CIO to the presence and power you need.

Your effectiveness and success is exactly what the CEO and C-Suites have been wanting but not knowing how to craft. You have long sounded the message that your IT team is more than specialists in their own tucked away area, and your team has desired to be more than functionaries without connection to the larger enterprise. Certainly, you have long argued, you are not the team that is a blockade to progress. 

It doesn’t matter that what is called upon from you may be outside the training you received. You have what it takes, and the leadership adjustments, collaborative skills and persuasion management are priorities you can learn from peers and in the midst of work within the C-Suite. 

Momentum. That is what we have been building to, and now it has taken hold. You are not alone. Success stories, case studies and learned peers now abound. The need has come to you. The very nature of business now is nothing you had to craft. Its evolution has remade itself to the very core of who you are and what you bring. 

You have what it takes, and the leadership adjustments, collaborative skills and persuasion management are priorities you can learn from peers and in the midst of work within the C-Suite. 

The time between shifts are short, but you now possess the agility to ride the waves that come your way. For this, your C-Suite peers are grateful: The technology, language and processes the marketplace demands are too great for your peers to respond to without your leadership. You never cared about position really: You have had to prioritize your presence and power. This is no longer your fight. Never before have you experienced the invitation for influence that is now yours. The support will grow, and the survey numbers will become even more favorable. The future has revealed herself, and you sit at her right hand. 

So pause for a moment, just to breathe in the air of having arrived. Now, let’s get to work. We are needed, and we can’t rest content. Our growth edge is even more keen.

As we close this year and look to the next, I am available to you. I trust my words help here and in my newsletter. For those of you I can serve in my Mastermind group, or those who choose to become a client, we have ahead the best year yet, and it is my privilege to ride the waves with you.

I am available to you because I have contended for you. The fight is worth everything I give to it. Congratulations my friends. 

CFO: Do You Know If Your Technology Is A Liability Or Asset?

The CIO is now being seen more as the right hand to the CEO. But does that mean everything the CIO contends for is worth the investment?

Technology turns over every 2-3 years. How do you know if the current technology in place is a liability on your business or an asset, leveraging exactly what you need?

It’s difficult to know the answer in the changing landscape of digital transformation and the roles of C-Suite Executives. The CIO is now being seen more as the right hand to the CEO. But does that mean everything the CIO contends for is worth the investment?

As the CIO role develops, their priorities are shifting. Whereas saving costs was the number 1 priority in 2013 to 71% of CIO respondents (hear the applause of the CFO in the background), now only 55% of respondents place cost as high priority. Also in decline is the CIO priority of increasing operational efficiency and delivering stable IT performance. Instead, improving business processes, developing products and enhancing customer experience is gaining higher priority, and those have new technologies and costs associated with them.

Whereas the CIO was an operator and technologist, they now focus more on being strategist and catalyst, aligning business with IT strategies and promoting innovation.

What is a CFO to do?

Technology becomes a liability when the following is true:

1.   When you are trying to keep up rather than step up.

The fourth most common two-word term in recent earnings calls is machine-learning. It’s such an assumed part of our future that companies are beginning to jump into technology that has no use cases verification. AI requires significant customization (and therefore, costs) before it provides value. Technology exists to help companies step up to what they must accomplish. Just trying to keep up is a recipe for wasted expense and hidden costs difficult to calculate. Not only is time money, timing is money.

2.   When you are playing it safe rather than keeping it real.

Technology turnover requires divesting one’s self of prior beliefs, of keeping an open mind and refusing to be bound to few solutions.

One-half of all strategic initiatives fail when strategy and delivery are disconnected. Out of date and obsolete technology is a significant liability when it blocks the business driver.

Will your essential business outcome be able to be carried by your current technology?

3.   When you are serving technology rather than technology serving you.

Anytime you are structuring procedures and processes around the technology available to you, or anytime you are just trying to get the same output for less cost, you are serving technology. If your training costs and hidden costs are being invested in current technology that lags behind your need, you are serving technology. Anytime you are covering for less than best customer experience, you are serving technology (Customers don’t care if you are operating off of a legacy system or modern system. They do care about the ease of their experience).

But when technology is serving you, then technology is an asset:

  • If it improves business processes
  • If it delivers stable IT performance
  • If it increases operational efficiency
  • If it saves money
  • If it develops new products and services that are revenue generators
  • And most of all, if it enhances the customer experience

In the end, as CFO you need to concern yourself with one question: Will the technology we have deliver the business outcomes we established?

The New Look Employee For C-Suite Executives in Digital Transformation

Digital Transformation is more of a leadership challenge than a technology challenge. The demands of today have outpaced yesterday’s training. IT members need to exhibit a whole new skillset than what drew them into technology in the first place.
Four major shifts require new expertise in the digital transformation arena.

1.   Perspective

The new day is now about product ownership over project management. IT leaders must be able to identify business needs and build applications that not only address the needs but take into account how those applications impact projects and workflow and integrate with other systems.

C-Suite Executives and IT leaders must continually emphasize that we transform “us” before we transform technology. Leaders become astute at pace and communication. Teams must be organized correctly to have a structure for speed, and leaders must communicate what can be delivered and in what time frame.

The primary measure of work must now be if it has been simplified. Leaders must avoid unnecessary “adds.”

Behavior based interview questions now focus not just on technical aptitude (“What did you build?”) but on why and how they built it (“What needs did you perceive and address? How did you discern and communicate their impact on other business systems?).

2.   Presentation

IT leaders now need to be able to present well at two levels. At the strategic level, they must be able to speak up in collaborative meetings. They are not just fulfilling directives, they must advise toward what the real needs are. The ability to communicate viewpoints and influence decisions rightly become a high-level premium skill-set for today’s digital transformation. At the communication level, IT leaders now need to know how to present in meetings, host and facilitate webinars and manage conference calls.

3.   Promotion

IT leaders must make others aware of their value. The work no longer speaks for itself. Though it is not instinctual for IT leaders to self-promote, they must in order to avoid being under-allocated.

In addition, IT leaders must promote their value to a customer-centric experience. As businesses make more decisions based on client empathy, IT leaders are at the heart of a customer’s interface. The IT voice must be heard because, in the end, they will be solving the problem’s raised by the customer voice.

4.   Positive Learning

The average technology skill has a half-life of 18 months. Usually what stands in the way of digital transformation is people. The new leader is curious, and C-Suite Executives are looking for people who bring diversity of thought to the table.

Day-long trainings are now being replaced by learning bursts: Minutes-long videos and podcasts are the norm of the urgent, hungry, apply-it-now learner.

Along the way, positive learners exhibit the emotional well-being that embraces mistakes: Genius emerges from failure.

We come full circle. There is already a gap between need and qualified potential hires. The need is exacerbated even more, as what used to be considered qualified is being challenged by the new skills required in your digital transformation.

But they are out there. Now we have a better idea of who to look for.

One Habit That Undermines Leadership Credibility

Do you know the one mistake leaders habitually make that undermines their leadership credibility more than any other?

Leaders who answer before listening are saboteurs.

  • Reputation
  • Team’s unity
  • Own growth and development

The commitment to ask questions and to seek out answers sets a leader apart. Your influence is rooted in the ability to question, inquire and probe.

Questions are a leader’s best friend. They turn conflict into conversation; they turn muddied thinking into clear direction.

Questions allow another to discover that they have answers. Questions inspire the art of discernment.

The best leaders, those who communicate depth, strength and integrity are those who question their own objectives, reasons and purpose.

1.   Substantial questions lead to lives of substance.

The old adage holds true, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Leaders need to ask questions themselves big questions that help them to rise above small living.

2.   Dialed in questions result in innovation.

Specific, targeted questions allow leaders to know exactly what they are thinking about, and conversely, to expand their creativity in solutions.

3.   Audit-based questions clarify values and true convictions.

Are you really investing time, energy, ability and money into what you say matters most to you?

4.   Right questions lead to right answers.

We are surrounded by people asking questions we don’t need to entertain. Leaders are not hot to adopt the latest trends.

Leaders embrace what will truly serve their identity, capacity and destiny.

Four Types of Questions

1.   Personal

Someone said, “An empty glass won’t refresh anyone.” We give best out of our strength. What are you doing to strengthen yourself in body, mind and emotion?

2.   Relational

Who am I developing? Who am I invested in, and who must be investing in me? Am I digressing into manipulation or driven by motivation?

3.   Vocational

Am I doing the right work with people I love in the place I belong? Am I burning out or challenging myself? Do I move up or move on?

4.   Missional

How am I giving myself to a cause larger than myself? When my life is done, have I given my all to people and opportunities that live on and carry legacy?

Leaders are paid to know. We understand that.

But the best leaders realize that every day they are judged more by the questions they ask than the answers they give.

Questions will build your reputation, your relational unity and your personal and professional development.

How C-Suite Executives Lead Digital Transformation, Part 3: Drive

Your company has untapped potential. But potential isn’t the issue. Priorities are. Sometimes, potential needs to fade. Priorities for C-Suite Executives, like how to lead Digital Transformation, must never.

You have made digital transformation a priority, rallied the agents of change (Part 1), and crafted the elements of change (Part 2). Now you must drive the change. Digital Transformations stall or die. They stall or die because they were never really the priority in the first place; the whole idea was just potential. Four commitments drive priorities.

Communicate

Companies must build on six P.I.L.L.A.R.S of communication.

1.   Paint a picture of the change you are after. Companies forget mission or change focus, especially when outside voices begin to be heard, such as vendors.

2.   Inform. Update on progress; make data accessible.

3.   Lift up people. Who is making strides? What team reached a milestone?

4.   Lead others into the process. You must get out in front with as many as possible. Waiting for peers will put you behind. Someone said, “If you want me there at the crash landing, invite me to the launch.”

5.   Apply change. Help people understand This Not That. Tell stories of elements of change being done right.

6.   Resolve Conflict. Conflict usually occurs because people have different information or different interpretation or different interests at stake. Leaders turn confrontations into conversations wherein parties are listening to learn, speaking to be understood and seeking common solution not just cease-fire.

7.   Steer the change process when it gets off course. Urgency will arise. Unforeseen circumstances will appear. Drivers of transformation keep returning people to the picture of the change you all are after.

Connect Resources 

Are mentors, coaches and skill trainers available to the teams implementing Digital Transformation?

What cross-disciplines, team-pollination will advance rather than impede development?

Are we wrestling through issues that requires outside expertise?

Can we trust the outside help to be an unbiased stakeholder?

Act

No one wants to act in such a way that money and resources are wasted by having to go back and redo work.

But Digital Transformation gets sidelined when too much is invested in perfecting systems.

Leaders who drive push for tests and implementation. As long as teams have been communicating and viable cautions have been addressed, then sometimes you just have to ship.

Celebrate

Digital Transformations are not just about corporate change. Celebration at the end is appropriate: Change has been made. But celebrations along the way reinforce that people are the ones making the change. The end is a product of great minds and talents within the initiative. It’s hard to acknowledge everyone who was involved at an end of mission celebration: Like a long list of credits at the end of the movie, no one will really pay attention. End of mission celebrations often end up focused on the C-Suite Executives. But if everyone is acknowledged meaningfully along the way, they will share in the joy and applaud your leadership.

Digital Transformation is on you. It is your company. Rally your stakeholders. Craft what is uniquely you. Drive it home.

How C-Suite Executives Lead Digital Transformation and Avoid Stall Or Failure, Part 2

(This is the second part of a series – see Part 1)

The Birmingham Sunday Mercury reported in December 2000:

Bosses of a publishing firm are trying to work out why no one noticed that one of their employees had been sitting dead at his desk for five days before anyone asked if he was feeling OK.

George Turklebaum, 51, who had been employed as a proofreader at a New York firm for 30 years, had a heart attack in the open-plan office he shared with 23 other workers.

He quietly passed away on Monday but nobody noticed until Saturday morning when an office cleaner asked him why he was still working during the weekend.

How do you walk past a dead guy?

In his book, Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud writes about the importance of pruning. He teaches that a gardener cuts off branches and buds that are healthy but not the best or sick but not going to get well or dead and taking up space needed for healthy ones to survive. He then writes, “(1) If an initiative is siphoning off resources that could go to something with more promise, it is pruned. (2) If an endeavor is sick and is not going to get well, it is pruned. (3) If it’s clear that something is already dead, it is pruned.

How do you walk past a dead initiative?

Companies get so buried in daily responsibilities they overlook what really matters. Digital Transformation matters, and the effort it takes to rally, craft and drive that initiative matters. In Part 1, we talked about rallying change through how you motivate, relate and connect.

Part 2 addresses how change needs to be crafted.

Establishing pace is essential. Pace deals with size and seasons. Leaders manage Digital Transformation so that reasonable benchmarks are reached in rational time.

Pace is critical. Michael Easter was the number one cyclist in California. During one race he cramped up and could not finish. He commented later, “All the skill and all the will can’t overcome dehydration.”

Chip and Dan Heath, in their book Shift add, “Self-control is an exhaustible resource. The bigger the change the more it saps self-control. When people exhaust self-control, they exhaust the mental muscles needed to think creatively, to focus, to inhibit impulse, to persist in the face of frustration…Change is hard because people wear themselves out. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.”

Three types of changes determine the size and seasons of changes.

1.   Immediate Changes

  • What will we do to demonstrate that things are happening.
  • What small wins will validate the sacrifice people make?
  • What do people need to hear, to see or to experience that communicates this is change toward progress?

Chip and Dan Heath reinforce this, “Change feeds on itself. Small change snowballs to big change.”

Immediate changes must result in positive experiences and allow leaders to reinforce the behavior they want to see. Group perception begins to shift. People do what others are doing. You’ve established an environment that fosters the new.

2.   Incremental Changes

Long term vision; short term views. Incremental changes understand the impact of change and gives time for employees to understand and utilize new systems, processes and components.

  • Where immediate changes inspire, incremental changes anchor.
  • If X is implemented, what, if anything, might be unattended that is still a critical function to us?
  • If X is implemented, what, if anything, could be more than people can handle?
  • Time invested in one function means time may not be invested in another: When can we let go of something and not be impacted negatively?
  • How is the energy level? Do we need a celebration or a rest?
  • Do we have the right people in place to keep moving the right things forward?
  • Are the financial resources still in place for the next piece?

3.   Ideological Change

Seth Godin in Tribes writes, “Ideas that spread, win…Do what you believe in. Paint a picture. Go there…The very nature of leadership is that you’re not doing what’s been done before. If you were, you’d be following, not leading.”

Ideology is belief that moves forward; it is vision turned into identity, capacity and destiny. Ideology clarifies, multiplies and solidifies.

  • You are immersed into Digital Transformation for a reason. How will people know, always, how these changes more firmly define them?
  • How will people experience greater growth themselves and, therefore, a sense of greater contribution than they have made before?

How do your ideas fulfill what your employees always hoped would be true of your company or of their talent?

Leaders craft change. They prune. They pace. They purposefully implement what is new.

But they must drive what has been designed. And that is Part 3.

How C-Suite Executives Master Digital Transformation And Avoid Stalls and Failure, Part 1

Your company is a business in transformation. It’s not about the newest technology, it’s about mission; it just so happens technology is your business and digital transformation is your future. Though most CEO’s and CFO’s didn’t rise through the ranks of tech mastery, they still see clearly the essential changes in front of them. They then enlist alongside them a whole new band of Chief technologists. Together, Digital Transformation is your shared vision.

But many digital transformation efforts fail.

 

In their book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath write, “Don’t obsess about the middle. Look for a strong beginning and a strong ending.”

The middle is mostly a mess. A rule for life is the same for digital transformation efforts: Don’t quit in the middle. The ability to see an effort through depends on the strong beginning which set the vision, clear expectation and tone. It also depends on the strong ending, which is a clearly understood, effectively applied new reality that benefits every internal and external customer of the business.

Every C-Suite Executive leads any digital transformation effort through three intentional commitments: Rally. Craft. Drive. (Craft and Drive will appear in a sequential article).

Intentional commitment #1: Rally

Every C-Suite Executive leads any digital transformation effort through three intentional commitments: Rally. Craft. Drive.

Legendary football coach Bear Bryant knew how to win, and his players at Alabama always brought discipline to the field. One game, however, near the end of the final quarter, Coach called in a running play to his offense. With the team ahead, they needed only to run out the clock. The quarterback changed the play. He threw the ball. It was intercepted by the fastest defensive back in the Conference who began running toward the end zone and certain victory. The quarterback gave chase and somehow tackled him before he scored, preserving the victory for Alabama. After the game, the opposing coach asked Bear Bryant, “How did your slow-footed quarterback ever catch my world-class sprinter?” Coach answered, “Your man was racing for six points. My man was running for his life!”

Too many companies are driven by desperation. Crisis leads the way. To rally a company, C-Suite Executives focus on three practices:

  1. Motivate
  • People can sense when change is needed. They don’t need to be convinced of it. They need to be connected to it. Seth Godin advises, “Transform shared interest into a passionate goal and desire for change.” People accept the need for change when change is toward fulfillment.
  • Do employees have a clear understanding of the company’s current position in their industry? Do they know the score both for the company and for their team?
  • Do employees have a clear understanding of how customers can be better served through digital transformation? Do they know how change will better serve their own motivation for working with the company?
  • Do employees have a clear understanding of the negative consequences of failing to get out in front of competitors? Risk-averse voices will try to pull back transformation, but non-traditional disruptors demand attention and consume the luxury of time to get up to speed.
  • Do employees know how new applications will solve problems and result in greater efficiency, less headaches and greater profitability/employee benefit?
  1. Relate

Your teams are motivated by an awareness of need and opportunity. Too often, initiatives are rolled out without further understanding of each team’s relationship to the process. Every digital transformation needs a single message, even if it is from multiple voices. Efforts will bog down if outside voices, such as vendors, begin to pick at a process by offering alternative solutions.

C-Suite Executives need to relate the following:

  • An honest assessment of the scope of the overall project.
  • The contributions expected of each team.
  • Realistic time frames to understand new technology and use it, and the training that can be expected to do so.
  • How circumstances or positive developments have made the course of action obvious.
  • The drawbacks to anticipate.

Part of the Relate Strategy is to lead people and teams into agreement. They share the same motivations and they commit to their responsibilities within the initiative.

  1. Connect

Seth Godin says that great leaders “realize that a motivated, connected tribe in the midst of a movement is far more powerful than a larger group could be.”

Connect involves cross-pollination of teams, and multiple team representation for the purpose of coordination and communication.

To connect also requires removing silos. Digital transformation is not a point-specific problem. Data silo in a single group restricts access needed by others. Digital transformation is about holistic value to the business, and data integration is the leverage.

Connect requires simplified structures. The emergence of new C-level titles can increase complexity, but digital transformations require agility. Clearly delineated outcomes, flow of information and means of decision-making are requisite for efficiency, avoidance of redundancy and alleviation of turf protection.

Outside eyes are part of an effective Connect equation. It is difficult to innovate in your four walls. Unbiased stakeholders who think creatively can stimulate your teams and clear up perceptions. Outside eyes say what needs to be said, so that connection is strengthened toward problem-solving rather than threatened by problem-identification.

Digital Transformation requires rallying the team. Long-term initiatives can only be sustained when compelling motivation is in place. Unless employees and teams can relate themselves to the project, diversion and distraction will pull at focus and energy. But when motivation and relationship is in place, connected teams will answer the rally cry with great determination.

Three Strategies For C-Suite Executives and Effective Decision Making

Let’s say you are a judge. On one occasion, you will issue pardons 7 out of 10 times. On another occasion, you will issue pardons 1 out of 10 times. Do you know what the occasion is?

C-Suite Executives are faced with decisions every day. They are more than you realize. It’s not just decisions within the company or in a day’s work, it’s all the decisions you made on the way into work and after work. From what you wore to what you did for breakfast to which lane your drove in to what you said to your children – decisions add up, and as they add up, they take their toll. Science calls it decision fatigue. Too many small choices drain mental energy; sometimes we make them because we simply don’t recognize what we are doing. Sometimes we make them because decisions we make allow us to manage and control more. Sometimes we make them because we don’t want to make bigger decisions. Regardless of why, we make them. It doesn’t help that we make them after work, either, because if you are like me, you are still mulling over situations in the back of your mind. If you reached a decision before you went to bed, you want to rethink it. There is a reason we “sleep on it.”

 

The occasion in which judges grant pardons 70% of the time versus 10% of the time is whether they made the decision in the morning (70) or the afternoon (10). That is scary. So is the study that showed that business analysts were less accurate with their forecast if they made it in the afternoon. And the study that divided people into two groups: One was given a series of decisions to make, and the other was given fewer decisions to make. After, each group was to solve the same puzzle. The group that made fewer decisions easily outperformed those who were fatigued by decisions. When we are fatigued, we stop trying. We take the easy and safest way out.

Effective

Anyone can make decisions. C-Suite Executives must make effective decisions. Effective decisions implement goals and plans, influence direction and people, and identify key issues and insights. To make these decisions, C-Suite Executives need to stay informed on trends and market realities within their business and filter decisions through customer-centric focus. If they do, then the following strategies will lead to the most effective decisions.

3 Strategies for Effective Decision Making

  1. Process-centered Decisions

Many decisions brought before C-Suite Executives issue from previously covered territory. You know this, because you will be asking the same questions to gather the right information you need for the best decision possible. Not only does this consume time, but it depletes energy and heightens irritation.

What are the decisions you must make in which you are better served if people come prepared with the information you already know you will need? Effective decision-makers have people do the work beforehand. You provide the template of questions, they come in with the answers. For example most decisions include cost factors or feedback from affected parties. Why should you be the one to gather that information? The person needing the decision does the work: You make the decision.

Collaboration tools can be a valuable assistant in process-centered decisions. They are easy ways for people to garner the information and insights needed before they ever come to you for a decision. If necessary, they provide a history of conversation that you can glance through to verify perspectives that are important to you.

The key: Keep in your court the decisions you must make; keep the responsibility to bring solid and complete information in the other person’s court.

  1. Practice-based decisions

A number of the same decisions need to be made in the life of a company. People can make “easy” decisions when same decisions have been automated or documented. Policies and procedures are in place so that work has been done once.

Have as many questions answered in advance as possible, and never make the same decision twice. Even if an employee seeks an exception, there is a best practice in place by which exceptions are granted or not (Now we know that smart employees seek exceptions in the morning and not the afternoon).

At the personal level, C-Suite Executives have learned that lists are still their friend. A To-Do and a Not-To-Do list maximizes your focus. A Pro and Con list clarifies your thinking, especially if those attributes are measured toward alignment of company culture and values. A Workflow list, starting with the end in mind, identifies what is truly the next best step toward accomplishment.

  1. People-driven decisions

C-Suite Executives must make the decisions that reflect what they are responsible for, such as vision, culture, strategic direction, product creation and so forth. All other decisions can and must be made by others. You can give parameters, but so long as outcomes are within those boundaries, you don’t need to make another decision in regards to that issue.

Do you really need to be in on what desserts are served at the banquet? There are people better suited to make certain decisions then you are, and the decisions they make for you may be the ones that energize them. It’s a double-win: You are not drained by unnecessary decisions; they are thrilled to be making decisions that make them feel effective.

Clark Kent wore the same glasses all the time. I think he was on to something. Even Superman avoided decision fatigue.

How C-Suite Executives Keep Their Geeks Geeking Out Over Their Job

It seems now that everyone is a Geek. I read the other day about Concrete Geeks. Of course, you have Student Geeks and Sports Geeks and Cookie Geeks and Politics Geeks and Fitness Geeks. In other words, you have people claiming to be Geeks even if what they geek out over is pretty much the opposite of what original Geeks were known for.

So let’s apply the brakes a bit. Yes, Geeks are known as someone with an intense interest and curiosity in a particular subject. But as Wil Wheaton says, “it’s not what you love but how you love it.” And that is the key understanding for C-Suite Executives, because even if you are an Executive Geek, it is highly likely you are motivated differently than a true Geek, and by true Geek, I mean us high-tech gurus who defined Geek in the first place, and name claim to the highest definition of Geek because we were the ones who spilled blood, and who were diving into computer programming while others were beating us over the head with automatic typewriters.

 

So you want to keep your Geeks and not lose them to the competition…

It’s not what you love (modern definition of Geek) but how you love it (true Geek). If you want to keep Geeks in your company, the IT wizards who are at the heart of everything you do, then you must be intentional in differentiating extrinsic motivation (which works for most of your employees) and the intrinsic motivations that drive your Geeks. Yes, Geeks love money and time-off and other physical perks, but that is not what drives them and keeps them. Instead, most Geek-work is driven by creative problem solving. The C-Suite Executive who keeps their Geeks geeking out are the ones who offer multiple motivations built around this single core.

Geeks want challenging projects, on purpose, with the right people, the right tools and the right reward.

  1. Challenging Project

There are two sides to challenging projects: There is the Geek and there is the work. The Geek is an artist; (s)he wants to be able to look at a problem and consider the number of options available by which it may be solved. “And this is how we want you to do it” is a literal death sentence to a Geek.

The project needs to be well-defined. Specifically, a challenging project needs a problem statement, a clear idea of what the Geeks are trying to solve. It’s even better if there are clearly articulated goals at the outset. Part of a challenging project is that it is accompanied by realistic deadlines and humane hours. The challenge of a project is not in the impossibilities (“have this done yesterday”), it’s in the possibilities of solving a problem the best way possible, and perhaps, in ways not envisioned before.

If you want to keep Geeks in your company, the IT wizards who are at the heart of everything you do, then you must be intentional in differentiating extrinsic motivation (which works for most of your employees) and the intrinsic motivations that drive your Geeks.

Geeks want to know that their work provides measurable value. Geeks are learners; what they learn, and how they apply it to a problem, is inherent in demonstrating their value. The last thing they want to do, for most of their time at least, is to do what “anyone else can do.” Geeks pride themselves on what they alone can bring to the table. This is also why a good C-Suite Executive will build competition into a project. Geeks love competition, not necessarily against something but within something: For example, “Produce a system more efficient than this company has ever seen before.”

  1. On Purpose

Geeks will leave if they aren’t accomplishing anything. If projects are always delayed or courses are being changed, Geeks will look for the company that actually need their expertise to get something done.

That is why the best C-Suite executive or IT Manager knows to protect their Geeks from any customer interface or meeting prematurity where a desire has yet to be translated to an objective. Objectives can be turned into code. Ambiguous wishes are merely vapors that vanish into the air.

That a Geek needs to provide value, and that a Geek needs to solve a problem, and that a Geek needs to see their contribution against a bigger corporate objective is exactly why Geeks thrive on communication. Leaders must constantly keep in front of Geeks what the company is trying to accomplish and how the projects advance the greater mission. Geeks are info junkies – they want to know. But they don’t want too much information. Geeks live enough in a silo to not want to be distracted by information that is not relevant. It’s not that information is power; it’s the right information is power.

  1. With the Right People

For Geeks, the right people are team members who know their stuff, and who are not prone to make mistakes that will cost the rest of the team innumerable hours on unnecessary repair and rework.

For Geeks, the right people are teachers and mentors. Geeks will leave if they do not have people expanding a Geek’s capacity. This is a critical question for the C-Suite Executive: “Do I have masters in place who answer the intrinsic need of Geeks to inquire, to know and to grow in their fields?”

For Geeks, the right people are those who highlight a Geek’s intelligence and give proper credit. It is those who take them seriously, and what drives them seriously. Geeks want to contribute; they genuinely want to help. They also really don’t want to be asked to do anything that calls their credibility into question. Geeks are ruthlessly honest because their work requires honesty; they know if there is a problem in the system, and they know that misrepresenting the problem creates bigger problems. Never ask a Geek to misrepresent your product. They will flee.

For Geeks, the right people give them free food. Seriously. Not all the time, but regularly. It inspires them. It’s a low end investment for the company that gains a high yield of creativity.

  1. With the Right Tools

Stagnant technology will drive away your Geeks faster than the Flash can circle the earth (which is about a work day at Mach 6 speed).

It’s not that Geeks just want the latest and greatest gadgets. A Geek is genuinely driven to succeed at a problem you have given them, believing that the company legitimately wants to solve a customer need, and to do so in a way that is profitable in the long run to the company. To be given such a challenge, and to then have the right technology withheld, is to betray the honesty of the project, and certainly, to cast a shadow on the true motivation of the company.

Geeks either want to learn the technology that can solve their problem (and once a project is entrusted to them, it personally becomes their problem), or they want the ability to develop the technology that is needed.

  1. The Right Reward

Have you established for your Geeks a clear path toward career development? Remember, Geeks want to expand themselves. Career development can mean promotion, but it definitely means the ability to become their best creative self, making the most valuable contributions possible.

Geeks will stay with a company for a long time if their ability to grow is not short-term within the system. C-Suite Executives that want to keep their Geeks geeking-out will live by one rule: Geeks Are Always Learning. Reward them with educational opportunities, mentoring relationships, peer growth circles and other capacity-building avenues.

After reading this, you are probably geeking-out yourself over your Geeks. Who doesn’t want employees who are driven by problem solving, focused on the most profitable means, simply seeking to be their best for the best of the customer?

3 Shifts The CIO Must Master In Order To Provide Value

Don’t blink.

Change in your role as CIO is that fast. In seemingly no time, business departments are now employing their own IT staff. Those same departments are buying technology without consulting with you. Overall, you are making less IT decisions for the company, and much of your own IT work is being outsourced. The days of control have passed; the time of being only a cost center is in the history books. People are looking to you to be more than a Director of IT – and that is good news. You always have been more. Your love of what technology has longed for others to see its value. That day is here. But you must make some shifts, and you can’t wait to be invited to make them. You must demonstrate your value, or the thing you always knew technology could do will be entrusted to someone else.

Welcome to your new world of customer experience, data analysis and wise counsel.

The Shift to Customer Experience

Customer experience is the new brand differentiator. Price and product is becoming secondary to customer-business interaction. Consumers will pay more out of brand loyalty if such loyalty is rooted in experience; and one bad experience not handled to a customer’s satisfaction will be the end of the loyalty.

As CIO, you must now be aware of every customer’s touchpoint with the company, and how your technology meets customers at each point. To demonstrate your value, you must engage in multiple department interaction. Understanding the end user experience, and how each department feeds into that, you are now the champion of how technology serves their strategies. In this, you are aware of how changes in technology and new proposals for technology affect each department’s performance.

You are not just a cost center; you are a revenue driver. Over half the projects consuming the attention of a Chief Experience Officer involves technology.

The days of the CIO and IT staff being brought late into strategic development are far behind you. You must seat yourself at the table, in the beginning, designing the customer journey and being the champion each department needs for technology’s implementation.

The Shift to Data Analysis

Just like that, data is seated on the throne. As CIO, you are now a critical player in digital strategy. You do not need to be the Chief Digital Officer, a position that 90% of global companies will have in place by next year. But you do need training in analytics.

As a CIO trained in analytics, you further equip yourself to be a data source that helps departments solve problems. Your primary role is moving from a permission-giver (the old cost center mindset) to a prophet: Because of data, you can see what is needed before others, you can warn of regrettable actions departments might take, and you can direct leaders to the most efficient, cost-effective and customer-centric options available to them.

The Shift to Wise Counsel

The CIO now represents a consultative relationship rooted in strategic relevance. You have the opportunity to use your IT knowledge to inform better decisions. You are now more than bits and bytes. You create a digital, optimum performance place of work.

As CIO, you must be consulted on significant technical spending. There are aspects of past responsibilities that will remain in play. But you must also inform marketers what technology is capable of, and in places where technology, marketing, customer experience, sales and services seem blurred, emerge as the one to whom others turn for sound advice.

You live in an interesting tension. The CIO today that clings to the old model of business will find that people will look for ways to avoid them and get around them. Today, the CIO is a peer strategist and team player. IT is not a necessary evil; it serves every department in quest of the mission. To succeed, to demonstrate your continued value, you must shift into areas foreign to your previous job descriptions. You are now the heart of every customer experience; you are the knowledge pool of business decision making; you are the sage who has stepped out of the shadow to guide the many.

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