In the fast-paced tech world, change is a constant. Thus, leadership means being a champion of change. And yet, change for change’s sake isn’t a recipe for success. Tech leaders must approach change in the organization through structures that have been specifically created with broader business goals in mind.
I’ve long identified people, processes and technology itself as the main components of such structures. But today, I want to focus on the first category. It’s nearly impossible to achieve your carefully identified business outcomes if you haven’t hired the right people and won over their hearts and minds.
When it comes to hiring, I always recommend mapping the skill set you need to the business goals you’ve outlined. But remember, skills can be learned. Don’t just look externally for someone who checks these boxes; look internally and see what people represent a good culture fit and have the potential to grow those skills. Sometimes this means making tough decisions, such as passing over a candidate with the seemingly perfect skill set because they don’t have the mindset you’re looking for. But it’s this mindset that truly drives innovation.
For the sake of this article, though, let’s pretend for a moment that you’ve already managed to recruit and build a solid team. How do you make sure you incorporate business acumen, consistent motivation, and a culture of change into your leadership? I recommend the three M model: mindset, motivation and meritocracy.
Any good business leader has a growth mindset. A good leader can fly at multiple altitudes -- from the X’s and O’s of high-level strategy to the ability to roll up one’s sleeves and tackle the nuts and bolts of a project.
Yet, you cannot assume you know everything; you must recognize that learning is a two-way street. Decades ago, having a senior or managerial title meant wielding top-down power (i.e., ordering people around). But in today’s knowledge economy, and especially in the rapidly changing tech world, the point isn’t to make decisions for your employees; rather, it’s to hire employees who can make good decisions themselves and who can teach you as much as you can teach them. Good tech leaders are open-minded, flexible and lead by consensus. To that end, they’re also willing to solicit and listen to both internal and external feedback.
Of course, the role of a leader is different than the role of a worker. In addition to admitting and allowing your own room for growth, you must be the fuel that drives the growth of your carefully chosen employees. Know when to jump into the fray and when to let your team troubleshoot on their own. The former should only happen in extreme cases, such as when company credibility is at risk or a customer is upset. Otherwise, your team should feel like you trust them and are around to guide and motivate them.
To that end, a key aspect of motivation is understanding precisely what drives each employee. Naturally, some employees are motivated by compensation, but it is typically a lot less than you’d think. Some employees want stability; others want mobility. Some love customers; others love traveling and working in new cultures. Some simply want to be involved in cutting-edge projects. To that end, some will be motivated by the opportunity to try and learn a wide swath of new technologies; others will prefer to dive deep and become experts.
It’s only by making a personal connection that you’ll be able to identify differences in your employees and tailor your management and mentorship accordingly. It is then that you’ll build trust and loyalty, which does far more for the long-term growth of the team than the numbers on a paycheck.
Being motivational, trustworthy and growth-minded, as we’ve already covered, will help create an environment where employees feel valued, empowered, and heard. That’s the only way everyone will be willing to share their ideas -- and the only way successful change will come about.
It’s also important to build a culture of meritocracy. In a meritocracy, employees are rewarded not for the titles that they have but for their individual contributions. In a company built on meritocracy, employees feel comfortable sharing their views, good or bad, can accept (though not repeat) their failures without fear, and are rewarded appropriately for contributing to organizational goals.
Indeed, they, like you, should always be thinking about how they fit into the organization’s overall goals. They should not feel locked into a narrow role defined by title or rank. Again, success in today’s world doesn’t come from people at the top sitting around declaring the plan of attack. It comes from having a variety of voices and approaches and a willingness to experiment. Make sure your team is diverse and ensure you promote multiple viewpoints. The best ideas will naturally float to the top. This is important. As the tech world spins ever faster, you need to disrupt or be disrupted.
The bottom line is that tech leaders cannot afford to skimp on business acumen -- on an awareness of broad goals and business outcomes -- as they implement and adapt to change. But meeting such goals isn’t going to happen on an island. It’s going to happen by being a role model and by creating an environment that values employees and experimentation. These three Ms can put you well on that path.