The New Mission For Technology Executives: Become A 'Chief Facilitation Officer'
The role of the technology executive is always evolving — inarguably faster than we’re seeing for any other roles out there. In years past, chief technology officers (CTOs), chief information officers (CIOs) or C -- fill in the blank -- Os were responsible for delivering technology solutions to problems that were well understood. But that’s all changing. Regardless of your level within your organization, if your goal is to drive innovation, you need to add a new core competency to your toolbox.
According to Gartner’s 2018 CIO Agenda Report, “84% of CIOs at top-performing organizations have responsibility for areas of the business outside of traditional information technology (IT), the most common being innovation and transformation.”
Indeed, technology executives of today need to take the lead when it comes to identifying and defining opportunities, not to mention the solutions for delivering innovation. In other words, they need to become master facilitators. They must work with cross-functional teams as they collaborate to build alignment, frame understanding and ultimately think differently about how to deliver value to the marketplace. Further, digital innovators need to embrace diversity — and not only in the traditional sense. It’s important to also have cognitive diversity and varying points of view to foster a healthy exchange of ideas.
The Questions Are Getting Harder
The rise in digital solutions that automate once-manual tasks has created an environment where delivering value is an entirely new proposition. It is one thing to build a website, an app or install and configure a content management system (CMS). It is another to understand which of those things — or whether any of those things — is the right thing to do.
Sure, technical skills are still at the heart of “how” to execute a digital initiative, but the questions have changed to “what” and “why,” with the answers infinitely more difficult to answer. Businesses that used to be challenged by technology are increasingly fluent in it, and the solutions themselves are becoming more and more robust and transferable. Rather than making decisions easier, technology executives must work doubly hard at building a case for “why” companies should move forward with a particular digital initiative.
As David Thompson, chief information and technology officer at American Express Global Business Travel, said recently: “[Technology executives] are conductors of technologies to serve the business. To keep your seat at the table, have a business conversation.” He also contends that IT executives need to be engaged in the business and stay connected with their peers to help them learn more about technology and its relevance in creating long-term value.
Becoming A GREAT Facilitator
Being an effective facilitator and nurturing a corporate culture that embraces this more dynamic approach to innovating is challenging, as it requires a shift away from “having all the answers.” Instead, the role of an IT facilitator requires that executives create and maintain the conditions for groups to come to the answer themselves. Facilitation thus values engaging over persuasion, exploration over proof and trust over authority. Depending on company size and organizational complexity, a new center of excellence focused on the mission of facilitating could also be the right solution. Regardless of your particular approach, it’s essential to have a GREAT facilitator who is:
• Genuine — they build trust by being true to themselves, including both their strengths and vulnerabilities.
• Ready — they have done their homework and learned everything they can about the knowledge domain, and about the people who will be in the room, allowing them to be flexible and respond appropriately to the needs of the group throughout the process.
• Energizing — they know how to sense and manage the energy level of the group and keep the group going throughout what can be a demanding activity.
• Alignment-oriented — rather than driving toward a predetermined outcome, the facilitator is focused on keeping the members of the group invested and participating in the process, together.
• Trustworthy — in this sense, it is less about how much you know, but how safe a space you provide for participants. They know they can contribute fearlessly because the facilitator is honestly invested in drawing out everyone’s thinking rather than judging the individuals.
Think Of The Chief Facilitator Like A Good Tour Guide
As important as it is to be flexible to take people where they want to go (and not just where you want to go), it is just as critical to know the territory -- or risk leading the group into danger. Even though the facilitator does not come to the meeting armed with the answer, they have to know the right questions to start with, and how to guide the conversation so that it comes to a successful, even if previously unimagined, outcome. This is the only way to know whether they have arrived or whether they need to keep searching.