Gartner has advised tech chiefs to do a little introspection and personal development this year as they continue to grapple with cultural issues that make digitising their businesses tougher.
In its annual New Year’s Resolutions report, the analyst firm reports that although most organisations are no longer struggling to get started with a digital business, they are finding it hard to scale. CEOs and CIOs have told Gartner that cultural barriers are the toughest hurdles.
Gartner suggested that tech chiefs adopt at least three or four of the following personal development resolutions this year.
1. Strengthen peripheral vision
A CIO’s focus on delivery and speed has a price even when that work is itself a program of transformation and directed effort will cause some narrowing toward ‘tunnel vision,’ Gartner analysts Mark Raskino, Mary Mesaglio and Tina Nunno said.
“This challenge is this: Even while you are delivering defined digital changes for your organisation, the nature of ‘digital’ itself is changing. It takes regular exercise to develop and maintain your peripheral field. So CIOs must ensure that new digital concepts can creep into the edges of their awareness in a timely way – not get blinked,” they said.
The analysts suggested that CIOs watch and learn the ‘5 levels of difficulty’ explanation technique created by WIRED; attend a technology-related event that is not corporate IT style like Slush, CES or Collision; and develop themselves to become non-executive board directors.
2. Switch emphasis from ‘how to why’
This year, the initial reasoning behind many digital initiatives could require re-evaluation. As the economic conversation about digital business matures, markets are taking stock and re-evaluating what digital business progress looks like, the analysts said.
“Critical thinking will become more important as the business cycle turns and speculatively invested, trend-driven behaviours inevitably slow down. CIOs must shift more focus into asking ‘why’ of digital,” they said.
They suggested that CIOs do a quick refresh at a team meeting of the old Toyoda 5 Whys quality management technique and include business colleagues not just the IT team. They also suggested CIOs practice inquiring about what new questions their people are asking; and remind their teams often that digital is a tool, not a purpose.
3. Stretch to occupy digital white space
Many CIOs are experiencing situations where their attempts at leadership are not being followed.
“For example, an agile software development capability is not used for MVP product experiments,” the analysts said. “Perhaps machine learning with IoT data could yield powerful new customer insights but this is not happening.”
New tech-savvy business job roles are need to fully enact these ideas but these are not being created because existing commercial managers are busy with current operations.
“To fill a new digital business capability gap, stretch into the emerging unoccupied white space. Start operating a new practice, small scale, to demonstrate how it works and show the new kind of value it creates.
“When other parts of the business can see what the value really is, eventually the organisation chart will be changed and the new capability absorbed. Put another way: create a minimum viable version of new internal users, not just the system, to kick-start business momentum.”
4. Break from budget thinking
Make a resolution this year to get away from talking about the IT budget and start talking about business profit and loss. This will centre the conversation on whether the company is investing funds wisely wherever they may come from, the analysts said.
“There is a fundamental paradox at the heart of many IT departments. IT is expected to contribute to business performance yet is constantly being measured on costs. Typical metrics include IT spending as a percentage of revenue; IT spending per employee; IT capex versus opex spend; the breakdown between hardware, software and personnel costs; and outsourcing.
“But our CEOs surveys show they associate digital business with revenue growth,” the analysts said.
5. Lead with neuroscience insight
Behavioural neuroscience is a burgeoning field with important repercussions for cognition, emotion and how we humans make decisions. The analysts believe it’s a potential pot of gold for leaders looking to transform their teams and their enterprises because it sheds light on why we do what we do.
Microsoft used neuroscience to reboot its culture but for most executives it’s a mostly overlooked and underused area, the analysts said.
“In 2019, resolve to learn more about how and why we do the things we do – and to use those findings to be a better leader,” they said.
6. Go on a digital detox
The analysts suggested CIOs refrain from using smartphones and/or computers and tablets for a designated period of time. The objectives are varied and can include lowering stress, rediscovering what it feels like to be present and improving face-to-face interactions.
They suggested tech leaders separate phones from their cameras, music source and reading device; designate someone to be a detox mentor; after the detox is over, decide to turn off automatic notifications; try device-free meetings; and invert connection and disconnection time.
7. Curtail three enterprise biases
Unconscious biases can get in the way of recruiting and retaining the best staff and can interfere with the way we use technology to acquire and serve customers, the analysts said.
They suggested that CIOs can review job posting for bias and avoid bias in resume reviews; review salary levels and promotion data and correct pay gaps; and review business algorithms for bias in serving customers.
8. Embrace the language of leadership and power
The analysts said CIOs should eliminate the language of service provision and use partner and leader terminology; communicate with balance sheet in mind; and empower themselves and their teams through conversations with external customers.
“The cliché that ‘perception is reality’ is often true,” they said. “CIOs have many opportunities to use language as a tool to increase the power of IT and expand IT leadership on behalf of the enterprise.”
9. Create a new sense of pride and strength
Resolve to be a technologist and to be proud – and foster that pride throughout the department and enterprise, the analysts said.
“IT is often in a defensive position. IT is ubiquitous and all enterprise employees and customers touch and interact with technology. As a result, everyone has opinions about IT. Unfortunately, they usually choose to share only the negative ones and take the positives for granted," they said.
The analysts suggested CIOs embrace imperfection and the humanity of IT; create a ‘wall of pride' documenting the history and successes of IT; and give awards to those who work well with IT.
10. Make time to directly experience a variety of new technologies
Finally, the CIO role can become an endless round of internal meetings and bureaucratic prioritisation, governance, compliance and people development work.
"Yet, business leaders expect you to personally spark futuristic business ideas and to have opinions on significant emerging technologies," the analysts said.
"There are many new technologies that you can assess by reading or by delegating evaluation to your people. However, there are always some experiential technologies that you just have to see and touch to truly 'get.'"
Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter: @ByronConnolly