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.
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 Out of date and obsolete technology is a significant liability when it blocks the business driver.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:
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 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?).
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.