I’ve seen it throughout my career - you sit in a meeting room with technical and non-technical folks, talking about the next major deliverable or a business objective. The technical folks are either pushing back on the magnitude of the task or relentlessly trying to explain the feasibility of achieving such a goal. While the non-technical folks are shaking their heads about how important the task is and explaining that competitors have done it. We should be able to execute without spending months using up extra resources or rewriting systems that seemed to be functioning so well until now, right?
As a result of meetings like this, numerous things can get lost in translation as people head off to work. Once they start executing, frustration grows, timelines are missed, and if they do deliver on time, it often results in a burnt-out team on the verge of quitting.
So how do you bridge the gap between a constantly changing world of technology and business? How do you get everyone aligned from the very first meeting, through execution and all the way to delivery? Who is facilitating the conversation translating business challenges to technology teams and vice versa?
Whether you’re a technology leader or a business leader, the responsibility falls on you to act as the glue between teams and key stakeholders. In order to be effective in this role, you need to build a bridge between these teams. To achieve this, it’s essential to incorporate 3 key pillars into your approach:
- Practice Active Listening
- Hold Personal Integrity
- Aim for Purposeful Help
Here’s a further detailed explanation of what these key pillars mean:
Practice Active Listening
Beyond understanding the problem, being able to define and articulate it is the most important factor in determining the success of initiatives for the business, users, and key stakeholders. It’s human nature to want to help others and there is no difference when it comes to business. This means people tend to jump into solutioning faster than they should. Then, despite wanting to help and resolve things, they often come to eventually realize that they were trying to solve the wrong problem. That’s why it’s so important to have the right specialists in place to listen, understand the problem at hand, and gather context to be carried out all the way through execution.
“If you define the problem correctly, you almost have the solution.” - Steve Jobs
As a leader, when you’re faced with decisions or new challenges, the first thing to do is circle back with those that presented you with the challenge. Listen to not only the challenge itself, but how it impacts them personally, the business and the people around them. Then, before you ask technology to execute on the proposed solution, present them with that challenge and listen to what they think of it - how can this impact the business from their lens, and how does it impact them? Once you have both sides of the story and you understand the big picture, this is when you can confidently go back and negotiate the best outcome for both parties.
Agility in the communication between key parties and narrowing down high priority decisions is paramount to the success of the teams as well as the business.
Communication doesn’t end at execution or delivery, but rather should evolve throughout the process into listening to feedback from users, customers, and consumers in order to optimize and deliver the best outcomes.
How to practice active listening:
- Build trust with key parties and establish rapport
- Remove distractions such as your phone and your laptop (except for taking notes)
- Demonstrate concern and empathy
- Paraphrase to show understanding
- Most importantly, stick to your values and stay fair
Hold Personal Integrity
When it comes to data, integrity means accuracy and consistency. When it comes to leaders, it means honesty and strong moral principles. Now when it comes to ‘tech to business’ or ‘business to tech’ translation, integrity is the sum of all of the aforementioned. As someone working to bridge the gap between technology and business, whether you are a people leader, thought leader or specialist/consultant, you should be laser-focused on keeping the integrity of communication between the people, the business and technology. This is because integrity is one of leadership’s most important characteristics. A great leader ensures that context is captured and held true when approaching the solution. It also ensures that the solution is based on what is in the best interest of the key stakeholders without thinking of personal gains or biases. In short, a great leader delivers on what they said they will deliver.
When leaders have recently taken on a new role or job that has a significant impact on an organization, the most common dilemma I see is that they overpromise to business and technology teams. As a result, when work gets real and time passes, they realize that they have fallen short for both teams. To make matters worse, trying to fix things becomes reactionary without properly listening to feedback from key stakeholders. Therefore, instead of spending the time initially selling the technology value to the business and vice versa, time should have been spent understanding what the possible solutions are that they can adopt, commit to, and then really deliver on. This will ensure the integrity of communication flowing from all sides of the organization.
Aim for ‘Purposeful Help’
‘Purposeful Help’ stems from servant leadership and one of my personal values: drawing energy from helping others succeed, leading by example and mentoring others. If you think that a certain task is beneath you, you should reassess why you feel that way. Statistics show that employee retention is positively impacted by 50% and job performance by 6% when servant leadership is applied within the workforce.
You should lean towards lending a helping hand when needed, not being afraid of getting in the weeds, and rise above blame. This will leave you with a clear horizon to oversee holistic executions and the ability to speak to both the business and the technology side of things. The bottom line is, if you don’t have engaged teams that are happy to come into work, feel empowered to grow, and believe in the product with you as the leader - the business is bound to suffer.
Bridging the gap between business and technology is not easy and requires discipline and balance between technology, people, and the business. In order to solve the right problem and execute on initiatives, you need to:
- Practice active listening to understand the problem and implications on all parties involved
- Hold personal integrity to ensure the successful execution and feedback channels with key stakeholders
- Aim for ‘purposeful help’ by being ok with getting into the nitty-gritty but also able to rise above and drive the business where it needs to go.
Combined, these elements will carry initiatives from point A to point B without affecting the bottom line as well as ensure the long-term success of the business and its people.