Business-savvy technologists or technical-savvy businessmen?

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Today’s software and technology industry is huge, and many of the companies in it were started by tech professionals who were tired of working for others and had their own ideas. But should technologists also start taking the lead in non-tech companies? After all, digital is the future of business, right?

Marc Andreessen, a well-known Silicon Valley venture capitalist and, as the founder of Netscape, one of the first to put the World Wide Web on the map, says many companies would be better off with technologists at the helm. “Find the smartest technologist in the business and make them CEO,” he advised in a recent McKinsey interview.

The problem is, the most tech-savvy people aren’t usually in high management positions — they’re usually working behind the scenes. And “there are only a finite number of super-smart engineers,” he says. “That problem is that the real technologists inside so many big companies aren’t the main people in the company. They’re not treated like first-class citizens.

Witness Tesla, which “is led by the technologist who imagined everything and knows all the aspects of the operation of an autonomous electric car”, illustrates Andreessen. “Big car companies are run by people who have a more traditional business background, who aren’t inherently technologists.”

At Tesla, “the engineers who work on self-driving cars are the most important people,” he continues. “Elon talks about them all the time, he talks to them all the time, and they’re basically the leaders of the company. The people who work on this stuff at the traditional automotive OEMs aren’t. They’re always in this kind of back room. The people who ran the company for 40 years are the same kind of people who are now in charge.

Should technologists take the reins of traditional businesses as Andreessen suggests, or should things remain in the hands of business-minded individuals who at least understand the power of technology? Industry leaders I’ve approached over the past few months on this issue agree that technology savvy is now part of leadership roles, but business acumen is just as important.

“You don’t have to know how to code — although that’s a plus — but tech literacy is now a required management skill,” says Linda Dupree, entrepreneur and former CEO of NCSolutions. “Keeping pace with emerging technologies and applications is absolutely necessary. Start by acquiring the technical skills necessary to excel in your current role. Then commit to learning more about machine learning, artificial intelligence, and visualization, as well as innovative ways to deploy these capabilities for organizational growth and competitive advantage.

Digital transformation “is changing the technology needs of businesses, and leaders must keep pace or risk falling behind,” says Borya Shahknovich, CEO and co-founder of airSlate. “This doesn’t mean that business leaders now also have to be IT experts, but it does mean that they need to harness the potential of their employees to become citizen developers. Businesses have the ability to work faster and smarter, thanks to the non-IT employees they already have. »

These disruptive and turbulent times “require leaders to be more dynamic, responsive and digitally savvy than at any time before,” said Dustin Grosse, director of marketing and strategy at Nintex. “Competition is pushing businesses to digitally transform the way they operate with more efficiency, less mundane, repetitive and busy work. Deep business knowledge of how to streamline work is key to accomplishing real transformations and avoid the all-too-common problem of simply changing manual waste-in processes to digital waste-out processes.

Aspiring and current leaders “need to know how they are guiding their businesses through this era of intense digital transformation,” says Shahknovich. “Cutting-edge software solutions, data and analytics, AI: these are all tools that leaders should capitalize on to develop the business potential of their business.

Yet, in addition to being tech-savvy, those aspiring to lead must be “very collaborative and interested in feedback,” Shahknovich says. It’s a role that can be taken on by business professionals or technology professionals who are willing to help lead their businesses from a strategic perspective. “Strong leaders are committed to breaking down silos and emphasizing cross-functional efforts, which are especially important priorities as remote working and distributed teams become more common. Leaders should also be interested in hearing a range of voices – employees, managers, peers, board members, customers – and establishing a culture where success comes from strategies informed by feedback and perspectives from a variety of people.

People who aspire to leadership positions, regardless of background, “have to be ready,” Andreessen stressed in his interview with McKinsey. “I do sessions with big companies all the time where I spend all my spiel [about crypto and blockchain and Web3]. I see everyone around the conference room with their increasingly skeptical looks. They are all trying to calibrate themselves. Are they going to feel silly if they are the ones expressing their enthusiasm when everyone else thinks it’s stupid? I assumed that by now more big companies would be more open to these new ideas. But there is something in their culture, something in the constitution structure of these companies.

The key is to maintain “the mindset of a learner, even when you’re winning,” Grosse says. “It’s not easy and successful companies have to fight the complacency that often accompanies success. No time to rest on laurels which will quickly be copied and improved by competitors. Learn how to be a constructive and authentic leader of change within your own team and in your group and company. »

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