What does being a second class C Suite member look like?
“I feel like a second class C Suite member” said a #CTO recently.
#1 He has zero budget under his control.
He has to ask for budget approval:
✓ to buy resources (eg Azure, AWS, Google Cloud) for engineering,
✓ for budget for tech training
✓ for his coaching,
✓ and permission every time he wants to hire someone new.
#2 He doesn’t get feedback:
✓ No clear and actionable feedback from his manager, the CEO.
✓ No clear actions agreed with the CEO about next steps at the end of the (rare!) one to ones he has with her.
✓ One to ones are random, usually just to be barked orders at by the CEO.
#3 He’s only invited to C Suite meetings and board meetings to:
✓ tell them when tech things will be delivered
✓ report to investors on tech strategy.
✓ He’s never included in business decisions,
✓ The business strategy was done without him, but
✓ He was expected to create a tech strategy to deliver the business strategy.
✓ He doesn’t get told the company’s financials/progress.
He feels left out.
It sounded terrible — so I asked:
✓ What did the CEO say when you asked to attend the C Suite meetings?
CTO: I haven’t asked that.
Me: Why not!?
CTO: Because I assumed that if they wanted me there, they’d invite me.
Me: What if they assume that if you want to be there, you’ll ask to attend?
CTO: Surprised face.
CEOs told me in research I did in 2019 why they don’t insist that CTOs attend the C Suite meetings, here’s the common reply:
“Because he speaks a very different language to the rest of the C Suite, he clearly doesn’t understand the wider business problems we’re discussing and he probably feels out of his depth. He certainly came across like that when he commented on strategy proposals in the meeting. We stopped inviting him to stop wasting his time and let him geek out, which seemed much more what he was into.”
It’s a two way street:
✓ the CTO often doesn’t speak “business”
✓ the C Suite definitely doesn’t speak “geek”/tech
✓ no one is stepping up to translate and bridge that gap.
A good advisor to the CTO who understands business and strategy, not just tech, can help a CTO with this.
However, more often than not, CTOs chose advisors/mentors who are very technical themselves, without much experience of building a business case.
In fact, the key reason CTOs chose me is not because of my tech skills (I can’t code to save my life!) but because of my business skills.
Because I can “translate” tech into business and vice versa.
The CTOs I work with understand the importance of “speaking business”, conveying the tech stack into business outcomes, so they’ no longer feel like a second class C member.
Now looking back at the statement of the #CEO about CTOs and match that with the CTO’s points 1–3 above — can you see what happened?