Blueprint to the Boardroom: How Tech Pros Can Influence Business Strategy

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Click to learn more about author Patrick Hubbard.

If you feel like you can never find time in your day to move ahead or develop badly-needed skills, you aren’t alone. In fact, according to our recent IT Trends Report 2019, 79% of DevOps teams, developers, and web product managers (WPMs) say their day-to-day IT tasks extend into time earmarked for career development, with 20% saying this always happens. While a small number of IT pros seek transition to executive leadership roles, almost everyone on the team would like more influence. They’re eager to help move the business ahead of completion using detailed understanding of the business and its systems. And if you can become a calm and reliable voice of your technology team, not only are you building a blueprint for your career—you’re helping the overall success of your organization.

The DevOps Frame of Mind

IT organizations with the core tenets of a DevOps culture ingrained in their business model are poised to help the management team make informed technology purchasing and implementation decisions. Those that have effectively combined “dev” and “ops” understand the criticality of feedback loops, cadence of development, and speed of deployment; with this experience and expertise, they can provide necessary counsel to C-suite executives.

While there’s no clear path to the boardroom (and for many tech pros that’s OK), engineers can bring their influence and expertise to the corporate strategy table. They’re in a unique position to understand and work with business leaders.

Political awareness of the management hierarchy is crucial. Study the chain of business executives between yourself and the board and identify an individual to help you navigate the other leaders involved. This could be the CIO or CTO, leaders who probably understand where you’re coming from and how their fellow C-suite executives will react to your advisement and ideas. Intel from a leader who’s a regular participant at board meetings is also key, as he or she can help bring your ideas to life. They’re in a great position to share ideas on your behalf or help with your first presentations.

It’s also important to understand how to work with executives. Recognizing what matters to business leaders and how to speak their language will go a long way—you can be the voice of reason and expert in the tech department. Serve as the DevOps lifeline and the domain expert. Be a “gotta sec” expert with key insight who comes through in a clutch, building confidence and trust with management. At the same time, however, avoid positioning yourself as Hero as a Service (HaaS).

Experiencing Success in the Boardroom

Getting to the boardroom (whether in person or in spirit through your executive counterpart) is only the first step in bringing your influence to business strategy, goal development, and innovation. To increase your chances of successfully extending influence, consider a few key guidelines for working with the C-suite:

  • Set expectations: First, set realistic expectations for not only new technology use and implementation, but also your position in the corporate structure. You don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver.
  • Choose your words wisely: Overall, stay calm and poised. When first sharing your ideas, be selective about the risks you choose to flag. Explain technology in business-digestible ways; paint a vision for the positive results of the technology or service. Give yourself a personal challenge – have a conversation with executives without using any acronyms.
  • Put metrics behind it: Think about the C-suite leaders’ priorities—business growth, revenue, and ROI for projects are probably high on the list. These goals directly correlate with the benefits and results of DevOps, and it’s your job to prove that. For example, explain the input in monetary value and the output in terms of business growth, cost reduction, and becoming a nimble organization.
  • Provide recommendations for new tech adoption: Become an expert on the normalization of cloud. Board members are listening to—and often directly influenced by—analysts and others throwing around terms like AI, machine learning, and quantum computing. As the tech pro, you can be the calm voice of assurance demystifying these technologies and advising that, while they are and will be important, this (whatever ‘this’ may be) is what we must focus on today to positively affect the business.

Working Together With Management

Despite following these guidelines, the ideas you share still may not make it across the finish line—don’t get discouraged if they aren’t accepted at first. Learning and growth are the primary goals. In the age of modern IT, adopting a DevOps culture can be compared to the way in which organizations treated computers in their early days. When computers were a revolutionary new tool for businesses that gave companies a competitive advantage, they were well-funded and had boardroom support. When computers became a commodity and the goal became to run them as cheaply and efficiently as possible, IT became a cost center rather than a growth driver. DevOps doesn’t have to be the modern-day equivalent to this.

Working together with management can also help eliminate one of the main cost and resource issues organizations run into: employee churn. High employee turnover rate is one of the greatest enemies of any business, especially in IT. Staff may be brought on for a new project with lots of expectations, but if the organization doesn’t help to develop the individuals working on the project, they may under deliver and even quit in less than 18 months to two years. Calculating the true cost of IT is more difficult because of this (largely avoidable) employee turnover rate and how significantly it impacts budget.

Lack of training or an overwhelming amount of time spent troubleshooting leaves little room for innovation or career growth, which is also a contributing factor to high turnover. In addition to our IT Trends Report 2019: Skills for Tech Pros of Tomorrow key finding that day-to-day IT tasks extend into time earmarked for career development, our recent Cloud Confessions: The Trouble with Troubleshooting survey found that DevOps, WPMs, and developers spend most of their days troubleshooting. Nearly half of the respondents noted it was in the top three tasks they manage daily.

Let Business Curiosity Be Your Guide

As tech pros, it’s easy to turn to our considerable technical experience when we’re nervous or meet new leaders in our organization. We’ve both earned it, and it’s the language we use with each other to instill confidence in us. But believe it or not, most executives don’t care about the technical details. At. All. When you switch from talking about their business porosity to a deep technical description and several acronyms, they’re not listening. They are reading your face for confidence and general aptitude to gain a feeling that you know what you’re doing. And that’s your advantage.

Step one in a pivot toward executive leadership is to become a teacher, a confidant with a real understanding of technology, but no need to geeksplain or dazzle with brilliance or accomplishment. Leaders need us to untangle, but moreover to actually hear what they need. They’re not specifying infrastructure, applications or networks—they express business ideas and its tech’s job to translate business needs into infrastructure. And more often than not, if you can do that, you’ve gained the primary skill that can lead to an Italian leather seat at the table.

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