2021 was a self-fulfilling prophecy in what we have come to realize as the Digital Age. The year saw an increased urgency to accelerate the transformation efforts and further enhance digital capabilities across value streams than ever before. While transformations are not accomplished overnight, this year also showed a massive uptick in organizations encashing and realizing the returns on their digital investments.
The directives for (and from) Technology Leaders ranged from envisioning a new business model to enabling hybrid work for business continuity and business teams relied on Digital Executives to power the transformation and modernizations efforts as is the norm. The spurt of digital transformation has become evident and the role of CIOs is becoming more prominent than ever before; The Digital Executive be it CIO/CTO/CDO or other variations in the new Quarter Backs are the most important roles in any organization, yet. The expectations from CIOs have heightened and thus established their role as a business partner to collaborate and remove silos across the organization, develop value stream-based business-focused tech strategy, and drive the digital culture while at it.
As the world marches onwards in 2022, Digital Technology Executives need to evaluate how the year ahead will change their role in leading digital transformation plans, and what new year resolutions will help them in keeping organizations on top of the table.
Resolution 1 – Go for Glory! Evolve from Good to Great
The past decade has seen Digital Executives being welcomed to the Board room conversations. Now, they take over board room conversations and actively drive them, but that alone is not going to be enough. Being a strategic business partner is cool, but I think that In 2022 they will need to evolve themselves, reinvent themselves and the entire Technology organization needs to go from 'Doing Good’ to ‘Going for Great’. Achieving this is not easy, but it should not be Herculean either. What can Tech execs do in preparation? Here are a few that come to mind –
- Stay ahead of the technology needs – responding and reacting is good – aim for futureproofing technology or go one up and trend set by predicting the future needs
- Lead by Example – Drive the Digital culture and it starts from your organization and can easily trickle into every interaction you have with business teams – Own the culture, be the culture!
- Innovate! Emphasize Innovation. Empower people to Innovate, fail and repeat! Better still, now may be the time to hire a Chief Innovation Enabler within the Digital Organization or mentor your Chief of Staff to play the role. Continuous innovation and research on next-gen technologies to find the next rainmaker must be the goal.
- Modernize! Maintenance takes up more horsepower than you realize. Take the bull by the horns; Enable a balance between legacy applications and modernization of the entire stack
- Get in the weeds. Are you really gaining all value from DevOps? Audit, check, improve, repeat. DevSecOps is the way forward.
- Data! Data! Data! Enough Said! Yes, data is cute but emphasize on Insights.
This will only happen by creating a culture of proactiveness, investing in continuous learning and continuous innovation, and having a sharp focus on re-skilling and up-skilling the current workforce. In this context, it’s important to define that every technology decision is an investment in achieving an overarching goal to improve customer experience and contribute to the bottom line, so, make every investment that takes you from good to great.
Resolution 2 – Embrace the Great Resignation
One major takeaway from 2021 was, regardless of the industry, business model, or even a department within an enterprise no one is immune to the Great Resignation. Also true is that Resignation rates are relatively higher for technology and healthcare verticals. I find myself asking more often than before – Is it owing to the burnout rate being higher in these segments especially within tech roles, and more so across mid-level employees?
Well, whatever the reason is, I think we must embrace the Great Resignation. For retention, set up comprehensive learning programs that aim at not just up-skilling and filling the skill gap but bringing on cross-skilling opportunities as well. Traditionally, companies have offered training based on a role and the assumed future role. It is time to change that. Hire or appoint a learning specialist and mentor with the right attitude, aptitude, and empathy to help. I think retention will be far greater when it is more than a job, it happens when people believe that it is their career.
While the talent transfer might continue, replenish your shortage by rethinking how you hire. When you do, emphasize work-life integration, empathy-driven programs that promote “get work done” rather than be in the office all the time and further, hire for passion, hire for intent, and hire for commitment as your top three followed by technology requirements or specific skills. The deficit in technical knowledge or skills can be overcome with appropriate training and learning programs; we cannot always teach or inculcate passion.
Resolution 3 – Emphasize Continuous Learning, Reward Continuous Learning
With Digital Transformation speeding up, organizations are challenged with unprecedented change, volatility, shortening the shelf life of tech and business skills, and huge demand and supply gap in the talent market. This requires organizations to quickly reskill and upskill their current workforce to meet the new demands.
Organizations can only be better prepared for the future if they invest time and effort in emphasizing and rewarding Continuous Learning. CIOs must determine the leading technologies and skills that are crucial for the business going forward. They need to work with the HR and People teams to help their workforce assess their interests and provide platforms to reskill and upskill to meet current and future talent demands. Leaders need to rethink learning curves and programs on a personalized and contextual basis to drive real impact.
While an enterprise-wide subscription to learning platforms is the most straightforward way of doing it, leaders can provide opportunities for moving internally across departments, projects, and technologies, short-term cross-functional assignments, co-worker training, and shadowing.
Build a formal system in place where in addition to day-to-day responsibilities employees’ performance KPIs are also measured against its reskilling and upskilling efforts. These employees must be considered for relevant promotions, better opportunities, and trained to take up leadership and managerial roles.
Resolution 4 – Define your Culture, Promote the Culture, Be the Culture.
Irrespective of the working model, Culture is always about how your company works, how your customers are treated, how projects get done, how employees feel about showing up at the workplace, and what their day-to-day experiences look like.
Technology is shaping every aspect of the workplace and this means technology leaders must act as the coach, facilitator, and preserver of workplace culture change. Technology leaders need to champion transparency and build open lines of communication, foster mutual trust, and respect, and unite the whole team for a common goal. It is important to hold regular All Hands meetings, share information across all levels and conduct Ask Me Anything sessions. Transparency is important, but it’s even more critical when employees are working in a remote setup. When employees are kept in the know, their trust in the company increases and they start acting as the unified voice of the company.
When we all were working from the same place, it was easy to interact and build relationships while embracing the difference. But in the new hybrid settings with limited face time, it is challenging to spend one-on-one time with your employees and listen to them. Be mindful and intentional that people are now working in Hybrid settings so look for intersection opportunities to talk about work and things apart from work. You need to understand what your employees care about and engage in a meaningful discussion with them to create a healthy and happy culture.
2022 – Where do we go from here?
The future is NOW and there is no going back, with our personal and professional lives being transformed forever. Most of the CIOs are having technology at their disposal, they are investing in technologies like Cloud, AI, ML, Data Science; the real differentiator is how they are using technology for Innovation and inspiring the people they work with. No amount of technology can replace a bold & creative thinker and effective communicator.
In this new normal, CIOs will build a competitive advantage by infusing the right culture, building strong partnerships inside and outside of the organizations, and communicating clearly and boldly. 2022 requires CIOs to lead differently, embrace their soft skills, and communicate effectively with CEOs, board, team members, and customers. In addition to this, mastering culture change is an amplifying force to help organizations continue their digital transformation.