by Morag Barrett

You’re not just leading a digital revolution. You’re also leading a people revolution!

Aug 10, 2015
CIOIT Leadership

Successful innovation requires more than a focus on the technology and systems. You need to focus as much care and attention to the people who are making your digital transformation real.

The role of the CIO/CTO is undergoing a major shift. For many of my client organizations the CIO/CTO is at the heart of a digital transformation. One that is redefining how business gets done, for the companies involved and for their industries.

In my experience, the successful CIO/CTOs are those who successfully combine three critical elements:

  • Functional Expertise – they understand technology, current and future
  • Business Expertise – they get the external industry and have a perspective and understanding of their internal business ecosystem and other functions
  • People Expertise – they are leaders who understand the importance of the people skills needed to lead a digital transformation.

Many leaders (not only CIO/CTOs) fall into the trap of focusing their time and attention on the first two elements, in the belief that being the smartest person in the room will be sufficient to drive through change. Unfortunately this is not the case and will likely undermine your ability to influence and lead change. Too often, the importance of the People Expertise – the people revolution required to effect change – is overlooked or given lip service. As a result companies, projects and careers flounder.

Great leaders pay attention

What separates the average from the great leaders, the successful from the unsuccessful companies, is the care and attention that has been given to the third element, developing people expertise. The world of work and your success is not a solo sport, you are dependent on others for your success.  It therefore makes sense to be deliberate in how you develop the leadership capabilities of your team, and of yourself, not just for success today, but also for tomorrow. 

You can have the shiniest new product (the “what”), but if you can’t get your team aligned to execute the plan (the “how”), you don’t have a sustainable business. It’s not enough to have an innovative product, or a leading edge service. To be successful, you also need to focus on your leadership and the people skills, the people dynamics and interpersonal skills that ensure internal employees are working together to deliver on the business plan or digital strategy that connect your external customers and stakeholders.

The people skills are the competencies that can take you and your team (the “who”) from good to great. They are often (mis) described as the ‘soft skills’ and include relationship management, interpersonal communication, emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, teamwork and collaboration.

In my experience there is nothing “soft” about any of them, these are the fundamental skills that make or break companies, teams, and individual reputations every single day. It’s the ‘who’ and the ‘how’ that underpin every single business decision and transaction.

I recently worked with a senior technology team who were licking their wounds following the failed launch of a major new product line. The product had been in development for two years. It was (at least at conception) leading edge and predicated to transform the marketplace. However they had been beaten to the post by a competitor; blindsided by the fanfare of the competitor’s product launch while their project continued to flounder.

When we investigated the situation it was apparent that the business analysis was accurate, their product would have been an innovative step forward. The project didn’t fail because the idea wasn’t good enough. What had held them back was a lack of alignment within the project team as to what was being developed, the milestones and measures of success. Roles and responsibilities weren’t clear. Communication channels were confusing and as a result, warnings of impending disaster were not being shared, or heard. It was a lack of people expertise that had tripped this team up.

Leadership matters

Sound familiar?  The soft skills are what deliver the hard results. If you are setting clear rules of engagement around how results will be delivered, about how to work with you then stand by for the predictable disappointment of missed expectations.

The good news with this particular team is that we were able to work with them, to provide a common language and framework for high performance that transformed the leadership team and enabled them to redefine their product and project, relaunching their own solution and moving ahead of their competitior.

I’ve worked with more than 3,000 leaders, in 20 countries, on four continents and spanning industries. Being smart enough, having technology or functional expertise or wasn’t what held them back. What derailed careers was a failure to get to grips with the people bit of their business.

This is why I do what I do, and why the focus of this blog, Leadership Matters, will be on the WHO and HOW, the people bit of the digital revolution, because business is personal and leadership matters!