CIO’s – Technology, Business Process, or Culture Builder?

I recently read an article in the Strategic CIO Journal entitled Top CIOs Become Business Process Czars.

The key focus of the article was raising the bar on CIOs to become more broadly engaged in the overall business and the processes to deliver value.

Now, I’m not going to critique the article, because it was the title alone that inspired this response. It made me think about senior technology leaders – CTOs, CIOs, or any senior technology leader in a larger organization and what their Prime Directive might be.

Is it:

  1. Technology Leadership?
  2. Business Process Leadership?
  3. Or is it, Culture Builder?

The article seemed to allude to the role moving from a focus on #1 to #2. And that is a relevant and important shift given today’s Digital Transformation strategy focus.

But that being said, in some ways, I think the article set the bar too low or at least in the wrong direction.

Culture? We don’t need no stinkin’ culture

From my perspective, the number one focus for senior leadership in today’s organizations should be on culture. That is, are they influencing, supporting, and creating the right cultural ecosystem so that their teams can solve ALL of the technology and business process challenges facing them.

Instead of the leaders being the primary technical or business problem-solvers, I believe they should be laser-focused towards creating a culture of:

  • Accountability
  • Ownership
  • Transparency
  • Trust
  • Driving Value
  • Active Listening
  • Innovation & Creativity
  • Space
  • Empowerment
  • Technical Excellence
  • Delighting the Customer
  • Risk-Taking and Experimentation
  • Learning
  • Collaboration
  • Organizational flatness for decision-making

Culture is something that is mission critical at Vaco. So much so that we developed a set of Core Tenets to serve as a lens for everything we do – whether it be leading or working one-on-one with a client, candidate or consultant.

Wrapping up

As a leader in today’s technology organizations, it is incredibly easy to be pulled into the inner workings of the business challenges or processes. It’s usually in our sweet spot of experience. It’s tactical and immediate. And Let’s face it, we get a strong sense of accomplishment by fixing things in these two spaces.

But I’ll always argue that it’s the wrong level. As a leader, you are front and center in setting your culture. Sure, many other factors play a part. But you are the primary actor in culture. What you say, and more importantly, what you do and how you behave sets the cultural landscape.

My recommendation is always to pick CULTURE first and the rest will take care of itself.


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