CEO-CTO Relationships – From Vision To Action, How We Did It
Technology has become so central to today’s business environment that every CEO understands the critical role of the chief technology officer (CTO). The CEO and CTO rely on each other: the former provides the strategy and guidance the latter needs to manage the organisation’s technology. But how do we manage the relationship between the CEO and CTO to create a successful partnership that will give the business a competitive edge in the days of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR)?
This is a crucial question that CEOs looking to leverage their CTOs’ expertise ask us daily. I have taken time to consider this question, based on the experience of our company. In this piece, I start by defining the role of the CTO. I then focus on the actions that positively impact the partnership between a CEO and CTO.
The Vision: Role of The CTO
The fact that technology is central to improving an organisation’s efficiency, services and products, customer satisfaction, and return on investment is no longer news. Technology nurtures creativity and innovation, streamlines hiring, and creates consistency and uniformity. However, taking advantage of the potential of technology requires a good relationship between the CEO and CTO.
To successfully work within a relationship with the CEO, the CTO looks beyond technology and is helpful to the CEO as a C-level executive. To do this successfully, the CTO must understand the business’s vision as a whole, a transition in thinking that can be challenging for many. In this regard, the CEO partners with the CTO guiding them to understand the broader strategy and direction the company is taking.
Actions Influencing the Relationship Between a CEO and CTO
Like any relationship, the partnership between the CEO and CTO is influenced by unique actions.
In our case, the collaboration between the CEO and CTO seeks to create correct systems in the world of cybercrime and DevOps. The partnership is incredibly important for our clients in different sectors, including finance, telecoms, and public entities. We want our clients to rest easy, knowing that their data and that of their clients will never be compromised. To accomplish this, the relationship between the CEO and CTO must be functional and robust.
Here are some of the unique actions influencing the relationship between the CEO and CTO:
The CEO must guide the CTO, helping them understand the long-term strategy so they can align the organisation’s technology to it. The guidance informs where we are going. The CTO provides the tools for how we get there.
Investing in The Jockey
I have often noted that organisations focus so much on technology and forget to invest in the jockey. By this, I mean that no matter how well-trained your horse is, it will only win with an equally dedicated and trained jockey.
From a business perspective, investing in the jockey, in the form of the CTO, ensures they have what they need to safeguard the organisation’s technology. So, the CTO has the authority to make decisions, and there is no public second-guessing of the CTO by the CEO. The CTO then determines how to empower the rest of the jockeys going down the organisational hierarchy.
To successfully work together, the CTO and CEO must start by acknowledging that they are unique individuals with potentially different leadership styles.
A successful relationship between the CEO and CTO is based on carefully distributing responsibilities. In this regard, there is no one-size-fits-all. For example, in specific companies, the role of the CEO is prominent because technology is not central to the successful execution of the company’s mandate. However, in other industries, such as banking and finance, technology is the most integral element, and you will find that the role of the CTO is stronger.
Therefore, the responsibilities between the CEO and CTO must be deliberately balanced based on assessing the industry in which you operate. This assessment leads to a determination as to which of the roles should be emphasised more.
Maintaining a Regular Meeting Schedule
The CEO’s view is not fixed, and the CTO needs to keep pace. This cannot be done by emailing or meeting monthly during board meetings. The relationship is built through one-on-one interaction. Each role player should know they can debate robustly in private but present a united force in public.
When there is trust, no one feels under threat. In an ideal relationship between the CEO and CTO, no one should ever feel threatened by the other. To build trust, expectations must be laid out from both sides. The question should always be, “How do we do this in a way that ensures the CEO and CTO know each other’s expectations?”
A Work In Progress
The relationship between the CEO and CTO is always a work in progress, where people learn new things about each other daily. However, for the relationship to be successful, the role players must be reading from the same page, clear about the priorities and expectations, and know who does what. Ultimately, CEOs and CTOs who understand that even though they are in a professional relationship, they are still two unique people will succeed in leading successful organisations.
Walking the Talk
How do we start focusing not on just the product but the planet that makes this product available? We need to start seeing policies that speak specifically to how companies will be held to account for how they deal with the planet. I am encouraged by such documents as the Mining Charter in South Africa.
While legislation plays a vital role in ensuring compliance with sound environmental practices, focusing on the planet will depend on voluntary actions by companies. It will only be when the people aspect of the 3 Ps understands the importance of the plant that the process will change and be done in a manner that respects and preserves the planet.
Providing information, lobbying politicians, and encouraging individuals to live sustainably will be practical ways to make the planet aspect central to the agenda. Organisations will need to set specific environmental goals and targets with clear key performance indicators that can be used to measure progress.