Yes or No:
- Is it your responsibility to guide the direction of the technology in your organization?
- Do you guide the strategic development of tech products or services which contribute to the growth of your company?
- Are you responsible for the technology your company is using?
- Do you ever feel that, when meeting with peers from other business groups, you don’t have much to offer or aren’t given the respect you feel you deserve?
If you answered Yes to any of these questions, I have an idea for you. Leave your job—right now!
Got your attention?
“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
– Yogi Berra
Potential CTOs Weaknesses
Many CTOs have spent a good portion of their careers honing their engineering skills and general technology knowledge. They got to where they are because they’re smart, hard working and well respected. But, in my experience, there are two major areas of weakness for these types of CTOs.
The first weakness is a lack of general business and finance knowledge in areas like basic negotiation skills or balance sheet/Cash Flow/P&L/budgeting. These are skills which can be learned in basic business classes or through the support of peers.
The second weakness is a bit harder to overcome. It involves challenging the current way of doing things and, more importantly, your own pride and ego.
CTOs generally work in silos away from the other departments of their company. They don’t have a real, in-depth understanding of the day-to-day work and overall needs of the business. Without this understanding, they cannot properly build or find the best technology solutions to support their company and grow the business. Equally important, they cannot build and find the right team to support the growth. Even worse, it can sometimes create resistance and political friction for the CTO and his team. Culture and attitude start at the top and if management is resistant to the general business needs, the team underneath will reflect this – and it will be reflected on the team.
The reality is that technology is no longer simply a solution to support a company’s infrastructure; instead, more and more, the technology is working to build the products and tools your company is selling. Or, the technology IS the tool your company is selling.
Leave Your Job – but not really
Here’s the deal: don’t leave your job (as in quit your job), but leave your job as in shadow other departments’ jobs. Disconnect from your job and really shadow them. Not just for a 30-minute meeting with a rep from your company’s sales team—but go on the road with a sales member for a week stint as if you’re a new employee being trained. See what they do and learn how they do it. Understand what tools they use (or don’t use) and how they’re using them. Figure out where there are gaps and holes in what they are doing and how they can be doing it better. Feel their frustrations. See where your company could be building a technology to not just support the team, but to really grow the business.
I have been thinking of an experience from earlier my career that, at the time, seemed like a random line of events, but now feels like it was destined to help me see the importance of really understanding my own strengths and weaknesses —and why this is critical for a business’s success.
I spent the early part of my career honing my engineering skills and moved up to management at a fairly young age. I was managing the IT department for a mortgage company which was rapidly growing. There was a large national sales team, many of whom worked remotely. Part of my responsibility was to manage the tools that were going out to help them. It was a main objective of the company to support the remote sales force as effectively as possible.
I built a great team and I was making decisions based on technical innovations and best practices. Our service levels improved and I had great relationships within the company. Overall, we were a successful, well-run group and I was proud. But, outside of a service department, we never got the respect we deserved and my personal career path was stalled.
I was told that, while my department was performing well in support of the company, I didn’t really understand the business, it’s needs or strategy. I was too focused on the technical side and too rigid in my “best practices” approach. I was too focused on operations and not enough on production.
I was young and worked hard to get to where I was so my pride and ego didn’t allow me to fully hear what I was being told. I couldn’t figure out how to overcome my challenges.
The political winds shifted and were no longer in my favor. So, after some convincing (and thanks to my soon to be boss and wife), I decided to shift out of the technology field and move into the sales team within the mortgage company. Because I was now living in the “production” world, I began to comprehend what had been told to me when I was running IT. It was an “ah ha” moment. I could finally clearly see what was needed to support the business as a whole. Better yet, I could see how the current IT leadership team were making the same mistakes I had made. Unfortunately, I was no longer in a position to fix them.
More importantly, I had seen my failures and could understand why my career had stalled at that time. If I had spent time working closely with the sales team, while I was still managing the IT department, I would have been in a much better position to not only help the IT department, but to help the company as a whole. Today, I’ve built an entire business around the philosophies I learned from this experience.
Reflecting on this early stage of my career, I see now how critical it is for senior technology leaders to spend time outside of their own department. To really understand how the technology is used by your customer base. To really understand the business of your business. To really feel the frustrations. As a matter of fact, a successful TV show has been built around this concept: Undercover Boss.
Take the Next Step
So I propose to you: Talk to your CEO and tell him or her that you’re going “undercover” with the goal of making a greater, and smarter, contribution to the organization and senior management team. Talk to your team and encourage your own senior leaders to do the same. Give them time off to shadow other departments. Incorporate the “undercover” concept as part of the on-boarding process. Push them outside of the IT department and force them to open their minds and have a holistic understanding of the business. You’ll lose a week of “productivity” but what you’ll gain in knowledge and personal growth will far outweigh the “lost” time.