Executives need better tech skills. Here are six ways to educate upward

There is plenty of concern about reskilling workers for the tech-driven, AI-infused economy ahead. Executive leaders need training as well.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer
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Every company may be now a technology company, but it may only be a clever catchphrase. A recent survey out of Accenture finds only 21% of companies have advanced their strategy development to "integrate technology in a meaningful way."

The problem is business executives may be able to use laptops and mobile phones, but that's where their grasp of technology trails off. 

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"The stumbling block may be the way you and your leadership team think -- or limit your thinking -- about technology," the Accenture authors relate. "You expect your executive team to demonstrate a comprehensive understanding of your products and customers, your business model, and your balance sheet. There should be a similar expectation that those same executives have an equally fluent understanding of technology and its potential for your business. Yet that's not the case at many companies."

In some organizations, tech-savvy goes all the way to the top, other industry experts observe. At JPMorgan Chase, for instance, the bank's CEO, Jamie Dimon, demonstrated an intimate understanding of technology in its annual report. "He talks about the journey to the cloud, about how difficult it is, and how many applications they have to refactor," observes Gur Steif, president of digital business automation at BMC Software. 

"What struck me isn't the fact that he has 4,000 applications, or that it's easy or difficult, or any of that," Steif continues. "The thing that struck me is that five years ago, you wouldn't have the CEO of a bank talking about refactoring applications. Now we have the CEO of a bank talking about how many applications they have, and how they have to refactor them in order to take advantage of the cloud."  

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If you are fluent in technology, your role may soon expand beyond coding and development. Technology professionals need to become educators, providing executives with a crash course -- along with regular updates, of course -- in technology essentials. Here are some ways to educate upward. 

1. Present data on business success stories

The Accenture authors identified "tech-forward" enterprises -- with business leaders who have a solid grasp of technology -- and found they tend to outperform their peers. "Before and during the pandemic, these companies were 2.3X more likely to outperform peers in terms of revenue growth and return on invested capital." 

2. Get receptive sponsors on board

If you are not in the C-suite yet, you need a champion with access to his or her colleagues.   

3. Develop estimates of the impact of technologies 

Technologists in tech-forward companies "have explicitly taken it on themselves to develop outlooks on the business potential of technology," the Accenture team notes. 

4. Look to low-code, and preferably no-code, solutions

It's imperative to make it as easy as possible for executives to leverage technology through self-service environments. It isn't their job to fuss with underlying technologies.

5. Executives don't have to know Python, but they need to be aware of what it can do 

"By doing so, they can speak with confidence about how nascent technologies, such as generative AI, relate to the company's current strategy and strategic alternatives," the Accenture team states.

6. Offer challenging workshops

Don't just conduct training sessions -- present tech pitch sessions. For example, technologists at tech-forward companies "challenge executives' orthodoxies during recurring 'reinvention sessions,' to imagine a different future for the company." These technologists "are prepared to be challenged and debate potential risks and mitigation -- much like a start-up pitch to a venture capital committee."

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There is plenty of concern about reskilling workers for the tech-driven, AI-infused economy ahead. But it's just as important to provide reskilling to executive leadership as well. 

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