by Louis Gerzofsky

The 4 critical questions every member of your IT organization needs to know … and why

May 31, 2016
Business IT AlignmentC-SuiteCareers

Every member of your technology organization should know the business they're in, it's customers and why the company is special. That all sounds obvious until you start asking the four questions. If you don't think they'll have the answers then please read on.


If the CEO of your company asked one or more of your team members the following questions, what grades would their answers likely receive?

1. What business are we in?

2. Who are our customers?

3. What differentiates us from our competition?

4. What’s our mission statement and core values?

Those questions are among the first questions I ask before I begin a new search or a coaching engagement.  The expression on the faces of the people in front of me while they’re considering their answers can be extremely telling, running the gamut from uncomfortable silences to excessive throat clearings.

My purpose in asking these questions isn’t to embarrass anyone or put someone on the spot in front of his boss. It’s to get everyone very focused and clear that the most brilliantly conceived technology initiatives can and will fail in the execution phase when the technology team receives failing grades to those questions.

Technology leaders are business leaders

Technology leaders are increasingly expected to account for top line results, (a recent survey of CEO’s reported that 63% of them expect their CIO’s to focus on projects that drive revenue). The historic fight to earn a ‘seat at the table’ will amount to little if the strategic insights and information that are gained in the C Suite or in Board meetings don’t find their way to every member of the technology organization.

Every level of your leadership team – whether you’re running a 50, 500 or 5,000 person organization – should be expected to answer those questions. If there’s a knowledge gap at one or more levels, if there’s a team or individuals within a team who think they only need to know their specific IT functions then you aren’t doing your job as a leader.

For the past number of years it’s become commonplace for technology executives to claim that they’re not technologists so much as business people who happen to know technology. I’d like to know how many of their employees are encouraged to think and feel the same way. Because if and when that day ever arrives then that claim will amount to more than a well rehearsed line to deliver during an executive interview.

Leaders create a mindset for their organizations

How can you, as a typically overworked leader, create a business savvy technology team whose members know what business they’re in, who their customers are and what differentiates their company from its competitors? The kind of team that anticipates problems instead of always reacting to them, that pushes you in ways that advance your strategic thinking and that fuels your career growth with a well stocked succession planning pipeline?

By developing a new mindset for your technology organization; a mindset that empowers all of your employees to view themselves as leaders. Given my twin business passions of executive search and coaching, the subject of leadership frequently pops up in many of my conversations. Over the years I’ve noticed that far too many people are under the mistaken assumption that a leader is someone who has other people reporting to them. It’s a narrow view of leadership. All sorts of people can be leaders if they have the right mindset.  As in: A leader is anyone who solves problems and maximizes resources by effectively influencing people.

2 predictions

Here’s my prediction: When every member of your organization views him or herself as a leader and accepts the above definition, then you are going to spend less time in skip level meetings and negotiating intra and inter departmental conflicts because more of your employees will understand that their jobs as leaders means that it’s equally if not more important to them to understand what’s going on inside the people in their world as it is to understand what’s going on inside of applications or infrastructure.

Here’s another prediction: When your entire team sees itself as a leadership team then they’ll be more likely to take an interest in the wider company. Encouraging an awareness of the company’s products or services and the people who are buying those products or services and why they’re buying those products or services will create a team that’s more motivated to produce excellent products, services and solutions.

Leadership is a privilege

One of my clients is a devout believer in the idea that ‘Leadership is a privilege’. I also believe that leadership is a privilege and ‘privilege’ (according to Merriam-Webster) is ‘a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud’. If every company is becoming some form of a technology company and the people who are responsible for that ‘becoming’ are in the IT organization then everyone in your organization has the right and responsibility to see themselves as leaders and to feel extremely proud of their contribution.

Are your employees more or less likely to ace the Four Critical Questions test with a ‘leadership mindset’ than with whatever mindset they happen to show up for work with on any given day? The people in an organization who really believe in their wealth of knowledge and power (i.e., influence) are more likely to enjoy knowing about their company, its business, its value proposition and, most importantly, its customers. They’ll enjoy knowing these facts and ideas because they’ll know it’s in their best interest as L – E – A – D – E – R – S.