Is Top Management unknowingly sabotaging its organization’s competitive advantage?

We generally think of the people who hold the top management positions in an organization as “the most experienced”; leaders that are qualified to make the tough decisions, set competitive strategies and chart the course for the future.  We make the assumption that they know what is best for the organization on all matters. But, does that hold true with technology decisions? 

The painful truth is that the individuals with the most industry, organizational and leadership experience are likely to have the least amount of knowledge and comfort with technology.  Even if they have an interest in the subject, their demanding work schedules afford them little time to study, contemplate and engage the latest trends. The result – They are less likely to identify and embrace the innovation that is increasingly necessary for their organizations to remain competitive.

This is the leadership conundrum of technology planning and adoption today.  The individual(s) with the best understanding of emerging technologies and its long term potential for an organization are usually not the same individuals who are setting the organization’s future course or have financial authority to implement a plan.  Of course, this is a broad statement and there are always exceptions, but it has been my experience that this conflict of operational competence and technological competence is currently the norm.

“I don’t think we need this. It will just get in the way when we trying to present to, and connect with, our clients.”  A business leader said this to me about sixteen years ago after I had finished a demonstration of what, at the time, was the latest in presenting technologies; a multimedia projector.

This was a very bright and accomplished individual who was leading one of the top architectural firms in the market. This person was competent, and yet, at the same time could not see that the business practices in the industry were changing and before long they would be at a competitive disadvantage.  Soon after, the firm was competing for projects using the static storyboard methods of a day gone by while its competitors were embracing multimedia presentation methods that the potential clients found more interesting and engaging.  This may sound a bit dramatic, but it is true.  “Technology” was the buzz word of the day and the potential client was more attracted to a firm that presented itself as instep with the times.

About two weeks back, it was déjà vu all over again. The customer was different and the topic was collaboration, but the outcome was the same. “Just give us a big TV on the wall and we’ll be good.  I don’t see us using collaboration technologies like this in our business.” 

Again, this was a very bright, capable and accomplished business leader by all traditional business standards.  The only trouble is that the standards are changing… and changing fast.  This person is simply too removed from emerging technology trends to foresee that, before long, they too will be at a competitive disadvantage. 

In the second case, the new buzz word is “collaboration”.  There are major changes taking place in the area of group communication and collaboration; changes that will significantly impact the quality, efficiency and cost of communicating within an organization as well as with its customers and partners.  This shift in how people communicate and collaborate is hard to see if one is not including emerging technologies as they contemplate the organization’s horizon.

Understanding technology treads and their impact on an organization/industry has become a required core competency of its leadership.  I am not suggesting that the President of the organization needs to know the bits and bytes or the how-to’s of an installation any more than they need to know how to implement the latest tax code changes.  But like the tax code, they do need to understand how technology trends and changes will impact their business, its operational environment and its competitive advantage.

Here are four suggestions for keeping abreast of emerging trends:

Trusted Advisors – Identify and develop a working relationship with a team of trusted advisors that specialize in emerging technologies.  Communicate with them regularly and ask them to include your organization in technology briefings.

Newsfeeds – There are a host of ways to get your daily tech brief on hot topics and emerging trends.  My two favorites are LinkedIn “LinkedIn Today” news feed and the App “FlipBoard”.  FlipBoard’s Technology, Science and Design feeds are common morning coffee reading for me.

Encourage Input – Host a quarterly lunch with staff that focuses on identifying new trends.

Imagine – Take the time to contemplate how these trends might impact your organization.  Imagine both the positive and negative potential impacts.  Sometimes seeing the pending change is a couple of thoughts deep.

While I’m clearly not suggesting that an organization’s leaders change the primary focus of their role, I do think it is critical that they increase their exposure to, and understanding of, technology trends.  Especially the trends related to organizational communication and collaboration.  There is a lot happening in this area and these changes may have the biggest impact on the organizations that are not paying attention.

Here are a couple of short videos to get you started:

Lync Connector

Microsoft Lync



  One Response to “Technology – The Leadership Conundrum”

  1. […] My friend, Rick Thomas, from The Chariot Group, offered some words of wisdom years ago in his post, The Leadership Conundrum: […]

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