Technology and the CEO Résumé: Instilling the Right Perspective on Tech

Part III: Making Sure Everyone's on the Same Page

Not every CEO has technology experience—nor should they. But CEOs increasingly need to understand why technology is important, what it can do and to take steps to make sure they are factoring it into both their decisions and their company’s strategic direction. In this three-part series, CEOs and experts weigh in on the increasingly important role of technology in today’s business landscape. This is Part III.

When it comes to creating a tech-savvy business environment, CEOs first need to think in terms of educating their executive teams.

Stephanie Woerner, a research scientist at the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research suggests “reverse mentoring”—establishing learning relationships where tech-savvy employees from lower in the organization help executives understand the potential impact of technology.

Some companies have executive meetings centered on technology-based case studies—led, perhaps by the CIO—that can provide insights into how technology can be used at the company.

One company, Woerner says, recently held a retreat where “they actually had all of their executive committee members write a description of where they thought the company was going and how technology would get them there.”

To a great extent, success with technology is a matter of mindset—of instilling the qualities often found in tech-industry CEOs. That means CEOs should remind themselves to be alert to disruptive possibilities and be willing to ask questions and take risks—and encourage those qualities in others.

“Woerner advocates a “digital first” attitude in organizations, where everyone is thinking constantly about how technology can change the business.”

Woerner advocates a “digital first” attitude in organizations, where everyone is thinking constantly about how technology can change the business. That starts at the top. “Does the CEO make sure that the investment patterns match being digital first?” she asks. “Does the CEO make sure that the organizational structure is in place and then use the board to back him or her up, so that the firm is actually able to become more digital?”

“Build technology topics and questions routinely into your management and leadership cadence,” urges Paul Winum, senior partner and practice leader, Board and CEO Services, at RHR International. “CEOs should be routinely asking: ‘How is technology that is now available being leveraged? What are the emerging technologies that we think will enable our business in the future—or that might enable our competitors to attack us—and how do we defend against that?’”

Staying on top of emerging technology “requires, as everything else does if you’re a busy CEO, that you deliberately allocate mindshare and timeshare to it—which means you have to consider it a priority,” according to Ron Cohen M.D., CEO of biotech company Acorda.

Read more:
Part I: Technology and the CEO Résumé: Why it Matters
Part II: Technology and the CEO Résumé: Climbing the Tech Learning Curve

Peter is a longtime business writer and editor whose work has appeared in a variety of publications and outlets. A former editor at a B2B custom-publishing company, he has written on topics including technology, leadership, energy, finance, management, intellectual property and legal issues in business, among others.