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CTOs, don't neglect the C-suite

John McAndrew | Oct. 1, 2013
Chief technology officers can't be all about technology. Building trust with the rest of the C-suite should be a top goal.

As a chief technology officer, you're good at technology; the C-suite wouldn't have hired you without that. But you can't be all about technology. It's even more important to understand the dynamics — and oftentimes the politics — of the C-suite. It's your No. 1 client.

Treat your C-suite colleagues as internal ambassadors. While they're all expected to be aligned with the organization's strategic goals, each of them represents a department that has its own vision, responsibilities, strengths and plans for success. The CTO has to be able to hear and understand all of those points of view and develop trusting relationships with everyone else in the C-suite. Why? Because your C-suite colleagues have the power to advocate on your behalf. And how do you build trust? These things all help:

1) Be helpful.

2) Be consistent.

3) Set expectations accurately.

4) Be on the lookout for what's good for the company, outside of technology or your department.

How do those bullet points play out in a CTO's daily work life? Any number of ways. You can, for example, show your business chops by mastering "out-of-tech" activities such as organizing executive team retreats or running the companywide ROI analysis process for the C-suite. This increases your own value — and the value for your department as a whole. Set clear expectations among your C-suite peers and (conscientiously) let them know you have to work together to accomplish their goals.

Among the best ways to set the expectations you want your colleagues to have are to plan well and to follow through. Planning well is what keeps a CTO and the technology team from failing. Following through is what separates the talkers from the doers. Help your teams develop the right planning processes to clarify what will happen, when it will happen and by whom. Then get your corporate culture to embrace those processes, starting with the C-suite.

I start my planning with the list of upcoming technology projects. I review all employee goals for the coming year, to get a feel for where we are headed and where technology fits in. Once I have listed all the goals that need technology to succeed, I score them, one to 10, based on their importance to the company and the effort needed to accomplish them, then use those two scores to rank them. The list goes to my C-suite peers, and together we set priorities and decide which projects to eliminate that year. With this approach, every department feels that it had a chance to provide input.

With the list complete, my teams schedule projects and publish the schedule to all employees. Sticking to that schedule all year long is a top priority, and if any project falls behind or even has to be abandoned, we make that known to the C-suite as soon as possible. On the other hand, a great idea might come up midyear, in which case we'll use an insertion process.


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