Wed | Sep 26, 2018

Francis Wade | Making the case for chief transformation officers

Published:Sunday | July 29, 2018 | 12:00 AM

Why is the average Jamaican company stuck in a rut, five to 20 years behind the best global firms?

It's partly because their information technology or IT professionals are locked into junior levels in their companies, unable and incapable of adding the value needed at the executive level.

Product development. Employee engagement. Customer service. Business process improvement. New prospect acquisition. This is just a shortlist of the activities that are changing faster than managers of these areas can track. As a result, there's a growing gap between their departments and those found in best-in-class companies.

What should your firm do to make sure it stays abreast of disruptive technologies in all areas? In most companies, people immediately think of the role of the IT unit. They are the most tech savvy, after all, and chief information/technology officers should be taking care of these matters.

Presumably, they can fit these high-level concerns between hours spent fixing laptops, adjusting printers and resetting passwords.

They can't. For any number of reasons, most IT professionals aren't providing the leadership companies need. Here are some ways to solve the problem.

Fix No. 1: Appoint a chief transformation officer armed with emotional intelligence. These technologists are a rare breed. They have spent hours developing their interpersonal and change management skills, possessing an ability to take projects from concept to completion in agile sprints.

However, their role is more than that of a highly skilled executioner. As strategists, they must help create a culture which tracks every single technology the company can use to transform itself. As such, they can sit down with the board, human resources, operations or marketing and lay out the future unfolding in industries, organisations, and pertinent functions.

They should help colleagues see the big, global forces which are independent of any company or country. Strong CTOs go past mere technology and study demographic trends, among others.

This isn't altogether new. Historically, board members have played a similar role. However, the pace of change combined with their high average age puts them at a significant disadvantage. They need a CTO to translate the emerging world for them.

Fix No. 2: Create a strategic road map. Many successful companies in Jamaica were launched according to a simple formula. A new way of doing business perfected in a developed country was introduced to the island by a foreign company or a returning citizen. The entrepreneur gave birth to a fresh method or technology, successfully implementing the idea within Jamaican culture.

This formula allowed them to leapfrog over older, more established competitors who were unable to react. For example, imagine the first company to bring automobiles to Jamaica. The providers of transportation at the time that is, horse and buggies and tram-cars were inevitably displaced.

Fortunately, your company can take a shortcut. Instead of waiting for a sharp competitor to reveal itself, empower a CTO. This professional can seek out these changes and help each functional area develop its own 10 to 20-year road map.

Truth be told, the path to follow already exists in other countries. For example, a VP of human resources must be able to predict what employee engagement will look like in the future. They should also understand what happens if a competitor solves this problem first.

- Fix No. 3: Carve out time. Foolishly, many CEOs simply throw the role of CTO to someone who is already busy. Furthermore, they will expect their managers to develop these futuristic skills on their own time, in the 'spare' moments between their daily responsibilities.

This approach never works.

Instead, they should use techniques like time-blocking on an individual and group level to dedicate the hours needed. This is just one powerful method executives need to raise the priority of this activity to its game-changing, company-protecting status.

After all, it's only a matter of time before an entrant armed with new technology enters your industry and disrupts everything. Don't sit back and watch. Prepare your company now by putting in place the right technologist, at the right level, with the right skills.

- Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of "Perfect Time-Based Productivity". To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email: columns@fwconsulting.com