Developing your strategic agenda is always an interesting challenge. Simply getting the time to focus on the long term and extract yourself from the day-to-day challenges of running an effective technology organization requires careful planning and discipline.
Furthermore, taking the vast amount of “noise” coming from within and outside your organization and assembling that into a coherent strategy that balances bold objectives with a high probability for success is never easy.
As you develop your agenda for the coming months, consider making sure the following topics are addressed:
Talent is a topic that is likely already on your mind. This is a time of unprecedented challenges finding and retaining talent, especially in hot areas like tech. While including talent in your strategic planning is obvious, there’s a risk of being non-specific. Having a strategic priority to “Address technology talent challenges” that’s little more than some bromides about attracting and retaining staff isn’t a strategy is wishful thinking.
Try to identify separate initiatives for attracting talent versus retaining existing talent, and look for unconventional and actionable items beyond just having some conversations with HR. For example, you might consider filling IT roles with internal resources interested in joining IT, or you might launch or expand an internship program with a local university or trade school. Everyone is recruiting for the same scarce resources, so start laying long-term foundations to address talent acquisition.
Talent retention should be a separate topic in your strategy and is an area over which you have more control than the vagaries of the external market. Consider strategies for identifying your top performers and methods for determining who is at risk of departure.
Think about what strategic initiatives you can launch that will help retain these individuals. Again, don’t be afraid to think unconventionally. Massive raises and bonuses might be off the table. Still, flexible working schedules, allowing individuals to explore “personal projects,” or take on new leadership roles are programs with little cost and significant benefits.
Transformation has been a hot topic for years but is yet another area where you risk unclear and ill-defined strategic objectives that end up providing more confusion than focused direction as you execute your plan.
Use your strategy to articulate what you mean by “transformation.” Is your technology group going to lead the creation of a net-new revenue stream, service new customers and markets, or develop a new asset or business model? Or will you emphasize the “digital” more than the transformation and focus on using innovative technologies to optimize the existing business?
If you haven’t had these discussions with your peers or leadership, you can use your strategic planning to probe your organization’s willingness to transform. If the mere mention of tech-led exploration of new businesses causes consternation among your peers, you’ll quickly realize that their definition of “digital transformation” may be quite limited.
Similarly, if you’re assuming digital transformation is all about the technology and your peers are expecting you to lead the exploration of a new market opportunity, better to discover that disconnect during strategic planning than halfway through executing your plan.
ESG (Environment, Social, and Governance)
ESG is an emerging executive and board-level topic. Demonstrating how technology can contribute to the overall company strategy in this area is a great way to elevate the importance and visibility of IT. However, ESG can be a tricky area to navigate for tech leaders that might be more comfortable dealing with a complex software rollout than questions about diversity or climate change.
Ideally, ESG considerations can be integrated with other components of your strategy. For example, social considerations are likely already part of your talent acquisition and retention strategy and can be highlighted as such.
Similarly, as you consider your overall tech footprint, you may already factor in power consumption from a cost perspective. You can easily integrate the environmental impacts of your tech decisions as well. Good governance practices should be embedded in critical areas and integrated with the broader company.
Highlighting your contributions to ESG can start with simply applying an ESG lens to the work you’re already doing. Longer-term, you can identify the many areas where ESG also provides compelling incentives, ranging from cost reduction through energy efficiency to talent benefits through better recognition and management of your diverse workforce.
The “Left Field” Element
You’ll have a solid and thoughtful strategic plan with topics like the above. However, tech organizations should also include a strategic investment in a “left field” area or two with no clear and immediate financial incentive.
Depending on your organization, this might be an investment in emerging technology. For example, as a commercial real-estate firm, you might make an initial investment in the metaverse. Outside technology, perhaps invest in an unconventional solution to a conventional problem. For instance, an experiment with bots or RPA technology might address staffing shortages in a particular area. At the same time, an AI-based assistant might relieve some of the burdens on front-line employees.
Including experimental initiatives does 2 things. First, it shows that your organization is pushing the limits of what’s possible today and attempting to address real-world challenges through technology. Secondly, it helps you triangulate how much experimentation, risk, and future-oriented thinking your organization is expecting in a low-risk manner.
These conversations are often fraught since pushing too hard can cause organizational pushback, yet not being bold enough can underplay your value as a leader. Specifically, presenting these elements of your strategy as “out of the ordinary” will open the potential for comment and feedback in a non-threatening way.
With elements from the aforementioned areas as pillars of your tech strategy, you should quickly identify pragmatic initiatives that help address these areas today while also defining future-focused initiatives that advance the overall organization’s agenda.