Scott Smeester, Author at Smeester & Associates - Denver, Colorado USA

All Posts by Scott Smeester

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

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.

Why The CIO Must Co-Create And Not Just Facilitate

You live with insight most people are still coming to understand. You know ahead of others that technology is not an important part of your business, it is your business. You know that customer experience is your commodity. You also know that there is lack of agreement among key influencers as to what digital transformation really is, that executives need critical buy-in now because market-changes occur at the speed of blur, that budgets are still lacking, and more, that talent is at a critical deficit: Advances in technology outpace the education required to keep up.

You know that 1.2 trillion dollars was spent on digital transformation technologies in 2017. You also know that 2019 will see that figure increase to 2.1 trillion dollars. Yet, people’s poor digital literacy keeps them pinned to the conviction that they are keeping up with advances so long as they use whatever technology customers use.

Because technology is “important,” the CIO has been invited to the table. What companies don’t realize is that the traditional long table with a head that listened and then made decisions has been replaced by the round table. Today’s CIO must co-create, not just facilitate, the very nature of how business is done. The CIO is transformational not transactional.

Co-Creation Requires Three CIO Initiatives

First, the CIO must create a whole new way of thinking. Digital is not a solution. It is not a way to optimize the way business is done so that old ways are now simply faster and cheaper and to the customer’s satisfaction. Digital is a way of being. Customers aren’t just creating new habits. Digital instinctual behavior is being wired into brains. The CIO as a co-creator must constantly, intentionally and strategically vision cast digital transformation. Fear will try to interfere: People will be political, protecting their interests; people will hold to old ways because they are their ways and they don’t want to be found to be irrelevant (or incapable of learning what is essential in the future). But the technological shift has already happened. The key behavior of the CIO is to identify the benefits for those who need to catch up:

  • They have a problem
  • You have a technology that could be the solution
  •  You show them their “happy ending” when they adopt your solution.

Second, the CIO must create a new focus. Technology is not about them – a department – but about us, the company. We cannot move at different speeds, reading from different pages. Since no one can keep up with the pace of advances in technology, the company must create a culture of learners. Across the board, people must learn different aspects of applications, and then be cross-pollenated to help frame right applications. Work teams must have people who represent the user-experience. The belief that perfect exists or that being bulletproof is real must give way to “ready, fire, aim.” Rapid application development models must take hold. Roll-out, review and adjust based on customer experience now prevails over design delays that feared the repercussions of imperfection. Engage the customer now or lose the customer soon. In helping people see that technology is the business, failure is seen as a friend, not an enemy. If every lesson learned teaches a company about customers, it is a valuable lesson learned. The CIO must build a culture of feedback loops, where the focus is on improving for the sake of the end user. The old days of criticism of an imperfect product must be relinquished: It is now the engaged experience of the customer that counts. Companies want to make the best product they can, of course. But the cost of getting it perfect the first time is not greater than the cost of customer alienation. Your competition, which has broadened, thrives on customers who feel neglected. Companies must put more value on having an improved product based on actual customer feedback than on not making an imperfect product.

Third, the CIO must create a new direction of innovation. IT has now recognized that it must innovate or be left out. Architects of digital transformation know that there are two foundational constructs: improve customer experience and create digital revenue streams. Digital will represent 40% of revenue one year from now. Those who have anchored such innovation in their companies are 26% more profitable. Both customer experience and revenue streams require an outside-in perspective versus the traditional inside-out paradigm. Practically, this is why companies are moving from an executive down “buy-in” strategy. Instead, they are using cross-departmental collaboration to co-create solutions and then demonstrate the opportunity to C-Suite executives. As CIO, you envision every technology development as having begun in the street. Then you walk it in to the office. Data and analytics are re-engineering business processes and shaping new value creation. The CIO that co-creates knows the customer journey map, and is able to articulate the opportunities and obstacles toward digital value and revenue.

As a CIO, you have stepped into a bold, new future. You have been lifted up from the underground of systems. You see differently. You see further. By nature of your field, you see what others cannot. Since a company’s horizon is only as small as the limit of their sight, your vision can no longer take what others seek and try to make it better. You must be in the beginning. You must create.

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.

The Myth of Trust, The Must of Trust and the Role of Technology

Myth: Trust is earned.

Truth: Trust is not earned. Trust is granted.

If I can earn your trust, then you have given away power to me. If I can earn your trust, then trust is something that can be quantified, and all I have to do is reach a goal, a standard, a 100% of something that necessarily releases what you have. Trust doesn’t work that way.

Trust is something that you grant. You can give it or not give it. Trust is in your control, an expression of your power and will.

If someone failed you, and then asked, “What can I do to get your trust back,” I doubt you gave them a clear list of tasks to complete.

Trust is an opportunity you extend for someone to act in your best interest. Trust is a bridge you are willing to cross with another from the known to the unknown. When you get on an airplane, you trust the pilot to get you there safely, and to get you to a place in a way you could not on your own.

Do-It-Yourself industries rely on undermining the trust you put in professionals. Where you once relied on someone to act in your best interest and to do so with a knowledge you did not possess, DIY now gives you the knowledge you need to act in your own interest (while trusting that the knowledge they provide is accurate). It’s not that professionals are bad; some just aren’t needed like they once were. Trust is rooted in need.

Consumers are moving their trust away from institutions and toward individuals. It is a major shift. Before, we relied on the good name of companies. Now, corporate reputation as a whole is suspect. Consumers either rely on individuals directly (e.g. Airbnb, which averages 5 email exchanges before booking, vs. hotels) or indirectly (hence, the rise of peer reviews).

Trust cannot be earned, but it can be triggered. How do companies today trigger the trust of the public?

The Musts of Trust

1.    Don’t try to build trust. Trigger trust.

Building trust is an exercise of persuasion. Being trustworthy is an expression of character. Persuasion seeks to have you act in another’s best interest. Character will act in our best interest.

Trust is triggered by four trustworthy character-istics. Not any one of these is a magic bucket that, once filled, requires the trust of another. Each one of these is a signal, for reasons you cannot predict, to another’s mind and emotion that they can grant something of their self to you.

Competence: Do you have what it takes to act in my interest or get me to a place in a way that I cannot?

Consistency: Will you be responsive to me and act in a way that I can count on you?

Care: Are you really driven to meet my need or is your service just a camouflage for your own profit?

Congruence: Does your behavior match your stated intentions?

Trust is not necessarily revoked because of failure. Studies have shown that loyalty to a company is highest not among those who never had a problem with a company, but with those who had an issue rightly resolved. Why? Because competence is but one of four triggers, and if, when you fail, you are responsive, genuinely caring, and living up to what you project, then trust might remain in place.

2.    Technology that triggers trust amplifies decisions rather than dictates decisions.

Technology does things for people, and it has a growing role in deciding things for people (algorithms). Your company will be more human when it chooses to enhance decision-making (honoring a trust to be granted) rather than to impose a decision (trying to require trust).

Customer knowledge (which informs what you offer) plus multiple options (which maintains your customer’s power of choice) is the equation for relational business versus transactional business. And the more you seem human (relational), the more you will trigger trust.

The Role of Technology

Your company’s technology serves the triggers. Technology is not only about you being more efficient; technology empowers your ability to be trustworthy. IT must do both – serve you, and strengthen your competence, consistency, care and congruence.

Failure to utilize technology to both serve you and strengthen you will cause consumers to entrust their needs elsewhere, and neither one of you may be able to articulate why – and that’s because trust is not a commodity a company can measure and attain, but a part of a consumer that they willingly, if not consciously, give.

Five Skills IT People Must Have Before Being Considered for Promotion

In a recent article, Techie to Tech Lead, Peter Gillard-Moss confessed to the five biggest mistakes he made when assuming a lead role from his previous tech role. It’s a great article, written from lessons learned the hard way. As I analyzed the article, I found myself framing his lessons proactively:

What makes a leader effective who has been promoted based on technical competence?

1. Leadership is not about the leader’s competence but the team’s competence.

It feels good to work in the field, to plunge into the familiar, and to bolster one’s ego by producing great product. But leadership is always about someone else and their competence in cooperation with their peers. Leaders aren’t building stars; leaders are bringing stars into alignment. Leaders orchestrate by bringing the pieces together to perform as a whole.

IT leaders experiencing promotion lose sight of this if they focus first on their own reputation, or if they believe they must be the best skilled among the team. Some of sport’s best coaches were nominal players, but they understood the game better than most. In understanding the game, they know how the system best works and how to bring out the best in a player in a team capacity.

In order to be about team, and in order for a leader to keep his or her own ego checked, the measure of success must be stated in terms of team accomplishment and team play, not technical or personal expertise. How do you define success as a leader? Define it in terms of overall objectives, objectives that can only be met by the whole of who you work with.

The moment you assume the mantle of a leader, you redefined success in terms of how you bring out the best in others, and how you multiply your skills to the point that others surpass them. Leaders are not threatened by any one individual’s success, because the leader is measured differently than those they lead. A leader is not evaluated by the same standards as when they were a tech genius. So don’t allow a former standard to drive what you do in a given day.

2. Leaders focus on their strengths but expand their competence.

The Strengths Movement has taught us that to focus on weakness and seek to improve it is counter-productive: Know your strengths and build on them. As true as that is, leadership comes with increased responsibilities, and those are characterized by skills that can be learned. For example, one may not be the most administratively detailed person, but they can still learn the skills of time and project management. One may not lean toward being a people person, but people skills, such as listening, asking questions, and giving proper direction can be acquired.

Think of it this way: If you are being asked to learn something that applies to other areas of your life, it’s a competence you can grow in (being on time and listening improve a lot more than your job). If you are trying to become someone you are not, then you may be seeking to over-reach. For example, if you are strategic (strong in ideas and plans), being asked to be deliberate (focused only on tasks at hand), you will find yourself climbing the wall in order to see the big picture.

As an IT leader experiencing promotion, the critical essential to expanding your competence is to beware of the source. That’s why outside eyes serve you well: People who have history and connections in the areas you are seeking to improve upon can lead you to credible sources so that you are maximizing effort and not wasting time.

3. Leaders guard values and facilitate action.

As a technology expert, your primary responsibility was to get your job done, and if possible, to play nice doing so. Your biggest obstacles were obstacles that got in your way, not necessarily the way of others. As an IT leader who wants to maximize your promotion, you are responsible to make sure that all of your team can get the work done, and so you are aware of all the obstacles that can come into play. You must be proactive more than reactive as before.

Obstacles are either internal to your team or external upon your team. As a leader, you must be aware of what is happening company wide, anticipating how decisions will affect the work of your team, and articulating to others what your team absolutely needs.

As a techie, you could ask, “Who let in the wolf?” As a leader, you look out for the wolves in the first place.

Also, before your promotion, you contributed to the culture. As an IT leader, you shape and defend the culture.

4. Leaders cannot afford to control every aspect of how the work is done; but they must continually move the work toward the right outcome.

Doing things right (as determined by you) now gives way to doing the right thing (as determined for everyone). A leader is still aware of wrong, and is quick to correct; but a leader gives much more allowance to the various right ways of accomplishing tasks and purpose.

5. Leaders are more person-sensitive than product focused.

Before your promotion, your aim was to produce that best product possible. The IT leader builds the best team possible. Part of building people is being aware of all that is in play for them in a given day: life circumstances, distractions, insecurities, personal liabilities. How to identify issues and engage in helpful conversations about those issues are skills to be learned. They are essential skills for those who sit upon the summit of leadership.

Consistent to each of these five realities: Leaders have a broader perspective. You must take far more into account than ever before. More things shift, and leaders live in the paradox that they must be more proactive than ever before, and they must be more agile in being reactive than ever before. Simply, more is at stake: People.

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