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Erika Schmidt, APR
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erika.schmidt@sappington.co


7 Communication Imperatives for Technology Leaders in the Age of Digital Disruption


SEATTLE (May 22, 2015) – Technology leaders who prioritize—and practice—a new way of communicating can become a strategic driver of the successful digital transformation of a company. To assume this role, it is critical that technology leaders organize, guide, and advise people at all levels of the company, from the Board of Directors to their technology teams, according to Tim Goggin, CEO of Sappington. 

The reality of digital business transformation in today’s enterprises has created new technology ambitions among business leaders and increasing responsibilities for IT leaders. It has also amplified the disparity between business and technology due to a lack of communication talent. Ultimately, the burden to improve falls on the shoulders of the technology leader. 

The technology leaders’ communication challenges around digital disruption was a subject of significant conversation throughout the CIO community this spring. 

In an article on CIO.com, Brendan McGowan, senior media specialist for the CIO Executive Council, reported that communication between IT and non-IT workers is in crisis. The claim is based on the results of the 2015 “Power of Effective IT Communication Benchmark Survey,” sponsored by the CIO Executive Council and led by McGowan. In the final research report, “IT Communication in Crisis,” McGowan says that “only four out of a hundred IT leaders believe that they are highly effective in communicating with their non-IT colleagues.” 

Communication was also a key theme at the MIT Sloan Symposium, where more than 700 IT leaders and corporate executives came together to discuss digital disruption.  

“Tech leaders can spark a new conversation where they are the strategic thinkers, as well as the tactical leaders. They need to help people envision the digital future and define the roadmap to get there. To do that, they benefit from creating an effective two-way communication system that guides people through their concerns—even Boards of Directors,” noted Goggin. According to research from MIT CISR discussed at the conference, Boards of Directors of large organizations believe that more than 30 percent of the company’s revenues are under threat as a result of unpreparedness for digital disruption. 

To help tech leaders harness this opportunity and assume the leadership role they belong in, Goggin offers a compilation of tips from experts and Sappington’s experience:

  • Expand involvement in Board meetings. Start developing relationships with the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee. This requires courage and vulnerability to demand more time to present ideas and concerns at Board Meetings, while establishing ongoing dialogues with the CEO and other corporate leaders.
     
  • Reach to understand the business. The “IT Communication in Crisis” report advocates that the technology organization really needs to understand why the company exists and the strategic plan for advancing the company. With this knowledge, technology leaders can bring a unique perspective to the business because they are closest to all of the potential digital opportunities to grow the business.
     
  • Communicate about growth opportunities. Engage business counterparts and win them over by sharing information about growth opportunities through technology. Technology leaders know the potential of platforms, and can help the business understand how technology can be the platform for growth.
     
  • Create the Digital North Star. The transformation into a digital business requires refining the company’s vision to lead with digital. It is the tech leader’s responsibility to help create a simple, one-sentence vision for the company. This action can unify the executive team and Board of Directors.
     
  • Converge with business: The CIO Executive Council’s survey report suggests that technology and business need to do more than align, they need to converge. In this new world of digital business transformation, technology leaders can lead the dialogue to help these disparate audiences focus on the digital vision as one unit. 
     
  • Speak as a human being. One of the obstacles to bringing business and technology together has remained the almost constant use of different lexicons. Business jargon and tech speak can sound intellectual, but if one side doesn’t understand the other, authentic collaboration is thwarted. The CIO Executive Council’s report validates these points, as well as the long held Sappington belief that technology leaders benefit from skipping the use of acronyms.
     
  • Establish a trusted technology “brand.” It’s become apparent that business-minded people aren’t interested in the features of technology. They’re interested in the business outcomes that are enabled by technology. In the “IT Communication in Crisis” supplement, Janelle Monney, Managing Partner with the Monney Group recommends ensuring that the IT brand is well aligned with the organization and “make delivering on your brand promise a top priority.” 

Finally, it is a good idea to keep practicing. McGowan points out in the CIO Executive Council survey report that many technology professionals believe that great communication talent is someone else’s skillset, yet everyone can develop it and foster it with the right guidance. And, the survey data highlights that there is room to grow and refine as nearly two-thirds of IT leaders dissatisfied with external communications efforts.

ABOUT SAPPINGTON

Sappington clears the way for digital business success by improving communication between technology and business people so they align around a shared digital perspective. The consultancy ensures that technology can strategically advance enterprise business.  www.sappington.co

Note: This press release contains corrections related to information from the CIO Executive Council and Brendon McGowan.