Looking to Become a Tech-First Business? The 4 Myths Holding You Back

Technology and InnovationLeadershipTransformation InnovationTechnologyTechnology, Data, and DigitalExecutive SearchDevelopment and TransitionTeam Effectiveness
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September 01, 2022
8 min read
Technology and InnovationLeadershipTransformation InnovationTechnologyTechnology, Data, and DigitalExecutive SearchDevelopment and TransitionTeam Effectiveness
Executive Summary
Many leaders are grappling with how to pivot their businesses towards a more tech and data-fueled future. We set out the four myths that hold many back. 
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For years, leaders have been promised amazing results from “tech transformation.” But the hard truth is that most efforts to infuse technology across operations fail—often spectacularly. A 2020 study by Boston Consulting Group found that around 70% of tech transformations do not deliver on their goals. That means that of the $1.3 trillion poured into “tech transformations” globally over recent years, around $998 billion went to waste.

We think it is time to start a new conversation around technology. Conventional wisdom has done little to move the dial. If anything, it has set organizations back from where they need to be.

Here, we set out the four myths that are stopping many leaders from gaining advantage from technology—and how they can finally accelerate progress to make tech stick.

 


 

Myth 1: It’s all about finding the right tech solution to hit your goals

It is easy to get dazzled by the next big thing in tech, be it cloud, AI, the Internet of Things, or another breakthrough, and believe that it offers the keys to business success. But technology solutions alone do not create a competitive advantage. Unlocking the value of technology is first and foremost a human effort.

You could have all the latest tech, platforms, and software, but without visionary and bold leaders throughout your organization, you are unlikely to reap the rewards you’re seeking. Becoming a tech-enabled business is, at its core, a huge change-management exercise. And that requires leaders who can bring the entire organization on the journey, winning over both hearts and minds along the way.  

This starts at the top. With you, the CEO. You are the bridge between where your company is today and where it needs to be. That involves setting a compelling vision that will ultimately redefine who you are as a business and your place in the world. It is about crafting a story that everyone can get behind and wants to play a role in delivering. It is about understanding the obstacles in your way, and removing them piece by piece, so the entire organization can push forward.  

Of course, there will be difficult, and sometimes uncomfortable, decisions along the way. For example, to increase agility, results, and speed, you may need to commit to flattening your organizational hierarchy. That may feel awkward for those used to leading in a more command-and-control environment. But doing so will allow you to build the culture of collaboration and innovation you’ll need to unlock the exponential value of technology.  

The best CEOs sow tech into every leadership decision they make. So, when your organization is looking for its next C-suite leader or crafting its succession strategy, make sure you hard-bake tech acumen into your plans. It will be the single-biggest driver of whether your efforts to transform your business will succeed in the long run.   

 


 

Myth 2: The tech function should lead your transformation

In most organizations today, responsibility for technology sits with a single vertical: the technology function, headed by a CDO, CTO, CIO, or similar. While every organization needs an empowered team of digital experts, finding true advantage through technology requires leaders to break down siloes and build a firm-wide culture that prizes innovation and tech adoption.

To get there, technology needs to become an enterprise-wide responsibility, a mantle that all leaders take on, not just tech leaders. When this happens, everyone on the C-suite—from the CHRO and CMO to the CFO and COO—aligns around the same vision for change and works in lockstep to deliver it across their teams, sending the cultural signal to the entire organization that tech is not only a strategic priority but something that everyone needs to get behind.  

Not everyone in your C-suite will possess the right skills to do this today. That’s where development comes in. Tech-first leaders aren’t just born. They are also made. And with the right training and coaching, it’s entirely possible for any C-suite leader to up their tech game.  

It’s also important to identify future leaders within your organization—those one, two, or three levels below the C-suite—who will power your transformation efforts forward, long after your tenure as CEO is over. Find the people who understand how to harness technology’s potential to drive growth, invest in them, and build them into the succession strategy for every CxO role. By the time they reach the C-suite, they’ll have exactly what it takes to ride the latest wave of innovation, and the next, and the next.

 


 

Myth 3: Your next CDO needs to come from Google [or insert preferred Silicon Valley tech company here]

While CEOs set the vision, and the organizational culture provides the ecosystem for change to happen (and stick), every company still needs a supercharged digital function, which navigates the day-to-day journey to becoming a tech-enabled firm. The question is, how do you best set up this team for success?

One of the biggest mistakes we see is when CEOs are looking to hire the C-suite executive to head up their digital team. Typically, they want to start with candidates from Big Tech. The logic is that executives from players like Google, Apple, Netflix, or Uber will have what it takes to accelerate innovation. It is, after all, what they do each day. While this is true, there are some important caveats.

Transplanting a Big Tech executive into a legacy organization that has not yet adopted technology at anywhere near the same pace and scale carries a high risk of “tissue rejection”.

Big Tech is typically populated by digital natives. That means executives from these companies may never have debated with internal stakeholders why the business should be digitally oriented; it is already in their company’s DNA. They may never have experienced pushing through large-scale transformations, nor had to persuade stakeholders that it was the right thing to do. Blowback is often a new and confusing experience for them.

Ultimately, the ability to influence is as crucial as technical skills. Any executive you hire will need to be able to fight internal criticism, inertia and skepticism. They will need to successfully engage and inspire their peers, employees, board, and wider executive teams. Not everyone is capable of this, so look for leaders with proven track records of doing so.

So, while Big Tech executives are an important part of your candidate pool, try to avoid starting your search there by default. Find leaders who can communicate the urgency and opportunity of digital to gain consensus and engage everyone in your change journey.

 


 

Myth 4: “Tech transformation” has an end goal

For more than a decade, companies have been relentlessly advised to embrace “tech transformation.” To push ahead with multi-billion dollar projects with the promise that their business will metamorphosize into a Tech Company, regardless of whether it was selling services, widgets, or donuts.  

But the actual idea of “tech transformation” is problematic for two reasons. First, it sends the signal that infusing technology across your organization is a one-off exercise—a once-in-a-generation investment that will secure your competitive legacy for years to come. Second, it suggests there’s an end goal to reach. With innovation cycles happening faster than ever, this is a long way from the truth. 

Finding advantage through technology is not a destination, but a continuous evolution. A never-ending process. Understanding this allows your team to shift the conversation. Discussions become more long-term and strategic. And it avoids the need to begin the journey with a huge upfront capital investment in a tech solution that many are nervous to back.  

One of the best pieces of advice we have for any company looking to become more tech-enabled is to not strive for total transformation in a single slingshot.  

Instead, understand where you are on the tech maturity curve—how you measure up against your industry competitors and best-in-class Tech Companies—and then embark on a journey of continuous improvement to push you closer to where you want to be.  

 

In 60 Seconds

  • Know that this starts with you. As the CEO, the buck always stops with you. And responsibility for tech transformation is no different. The strategic importance of gaining advantage from technology is not something that can be abdicated to others.   

  • Understand where you are on the digital maturity curve. How do you measure up against not only your industry competitors but best-in-class Tech Companies? And then embark on a journey of continuous improvement to push you closer to where you want, or need, to be.  

  • Look for tech acumen when hiring any C-suite leader—and revamp your CxO succession plans to ensure you have a strong pipeline of future executives who have a hunger for what’s next (and know how to get there).  

  • Work on creating an agile culture that prizes innovation. This won’t happen overnight. But start by making technology everyone’s responsibility, not just something that’s relegated to the technology function alone.  

  • Expand your thinking about what makes a great tech leader. It might not be someone from one of the tech giants. Executives who’ve already transformed a legacy organization will often index higher on the skills you need to do the same.  

 

 

 

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It's time for a new conversation about technology

 

 

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