This is a article on: Risk Management, User Experience, and Value Optimization

Executive Fluency

1 Magic

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
--Arthur C Clarke, futurist

Technology seems complex to outsiders.

Though technologists and technology leaders recognize this complexity, we know there are always more advanced technologies on the horizon. We do not regard our own work as magic.

When executives dismiss as "magic" the technology and operations capabilities of the company:

  • Technology risk, value and budget will not be understood.
  • Technology will be a separate strategic goal, rather than a way to achieve and optimize all strategic goals.
  • Technology will not be represented, applied or integrated for competitive advantage.

2 Fluency

As a technology leader, it is your job not just to guide the use of technology, but also to build executive fluency around technology.

  • All executives should speak from the same basic understanding of how you use technology. You are responsible for building this foundation.
  • All executives should at a high level understand the problem, solution and value. You are responsible for improving fluency through change.
  • All executives should talk about how technology is applied in their segment of the business as a competitive market differentiator. You are responsible for generating market value through peer disciplines.

3 Thumbnail View

Leaders are often taught to hone their elevator pitch for use with management. The issue with this approach: elevator pitches are focused on providing a taste of information leading to a decision. For executive fluency, we need deep understanding and retention.

When technology leaders talk to their reports, it is in the context of specific technologies and technical terms. Except in businesses which provide technical products and services, it is inappropriate to talk with your executives in these terms.

Consider who your executives talk with. What is the technology fluency of their audience? This should be your target in selecting terminology, simplifying concepts, and aligning messaging.

  • Your technology work flowed from strategic plans and tactical needs. Work in the opposite direction -- form a simple, high-level strategic plan that encompasses the work you do today. The points of this plan are a framework you will use every time you talk about technology. This is the basic understanding you want all executives to have about your technology approach.
  • "This. That. The other thing." -- easy to remember. Use exactly three bullet points. Two points contain insufficient detail. Four or more points are hard to remember.
  • Cultivate deeper learning by including results metrics worth caring about, and which are tied to value mechanisms -- increased, reduced, optimized, replaced. Technology should be referenced, but not be the primary focus. For example: "Increased communication with repeat customers through targeted emails led to a 23% increase in customer retention and 37% increase in repeat orders."

4 Change Management

Change in business is constant, and every change is an opportunity to build fluency.

Executive fluency may be lost when executives become out-of-touch due to changes. Executive fluency may be built when executives learn during the change process.

For learning to occur, there must be a compelling reason to pay attention.

  • Spend time building excellent presentations. Write everything out, then decide where infographics can help simplify complex sets of data points or connections between concepts. Test your presentations with a low risk audience. Deliver your presentation in a way that will show value for the time spent listening.
  • Ensure you have stakeholder relationships with all peers. Ensure your peers have opportunity to tell you about the problems they are facing. Work together on solutions.
  • Metrics exist at a high level for the whole business, and also at the project level as disciplines collaborate. Measure the benefit of a project to your peers -- sales growth, brand affinity, reduced overhead. When you empower your executive peers with project value metrics tied to their discipline, every time they show their own value they also positively reflect upon yours.

5 Competitive Analysis

Technology leaders benefit from investing time in understanding market pain points, brand experience, user experience, and business pain points. This awareness of the business landscape enables better decision support for peers, risk-based decision-making, and value optimization.

As executive fluency around technology grows, we can drive stronger competitive advantages.

  • Where many companies talk about their technologies as a silo, your company will include reference to technology as part of the value proposition. The terms used will be market value oriented.
  • Strategic plans will entertain market pain points currently insurmountable to competitors. Understanding of business capabilities will raise comfort in making "big bets" needed to push the company to the market forefront.
  • You are valued. As technology is recognized as a key differentiator, particularly in helping executives work together to solve problems, your position will enable you to benefit more of the business.

Executive fluency in technology is a strong business advantage, to the operating and strategic benefit of the executives, and an indicator of excellence in technology leadership. The technology leader's actions will be judged by your boss's peers. Are they hearing the right message?