I get the impression that a lot of people are actively looking at interim CTO assignments now who might not have considered them in the past.
So what is the same/different about being an interim CTO consultant or full time employee, and how can you maximise your chances of success if you make the leap?
In my experience very few people get treated any differently day-to-day in interim CTO roles than “permanent” employees..the fact that you’re an interim CTO won’t be a big issue but the expectations of you as an interim CTO can be higher.
You might be expected to be an expert on more things, and you’ll probably be expected to have a measurable impact – perhaps more quickly than a new full time employee would be.
You could also get more latitude to challenge the orthodoxy, not be expected to navigate the company politics so carefully, and have your change agenda considered more dispassionately.
So how do you make sure you’re successful in your first interim CTO consultant role?
The first (and maybe obvious) point is to choose the right role.
Don’t set yourself up for failure by taking an interim CTO role with a team size, company culture or business model you’re not absolutely confident you can add real value to. Ultimately what you “sell” is your reputation and track record – don’t be tempted to risk it by taking on a role you’re not 100% right for.
Once you have found the right role, and before you start, make sure you are very clear about the brief.
Make sure you really understand what success will look like in the potential role.
Sometimes a company’s real wants and needs can’t be articulated clearly and you have to use your experience and intuition to read between the lines about why they want to hire you. Make sure you understand whether you will need to be a good cultural fit or being counter-cultural is one of the reasons why they want to hire you.
When you start get the basics right..always arrive on time and dress similarly to the prevailing dress code in the team.
At the early stages of any assignment make sure you don’t write cheques you can’t cash by promising unachievable things. There is no surer way to destroy your credibility (and make enemies of other people) than by promising things that can’t be done. It’s a subtle situation though..you may have been brought in to increase urgency and delivery so any goals you agree need to be ambitious but achievable.
So..what is the most important thing to do when you arrive?
It is to listen..never make the mistake of joining with a “here’s the solution..now tell me about the problem” approach.
In your first week try and meet as many people in the team as possible.
It’s important for you to get to know the team, and them to get to know you, so scheduling 30 minute interviews with each team member to ask the sort of questions below will very quickly create a picture of what you’re walking into.
Example Interview Questions
Are you enjoying it here at the moment?
What are our key responsibilities as a team do you think?
As a team, what do we do well do you think?
What do we need to get better at?
Who are our stars?
Does anyone in the team need help to be more successful?
How could we get more customer outcome focussed?
How could we move faster?
Would you recommend working here to a friend?
What three things would you do if you were me?
Anything else we should talk about?
After the interviews an interesting exercise is to allocate any team member mentioned as a “star” in question 5. a +1 and any struggling team member mentioned in 6. a -1. Adding up all the scores will give a quick but surprisingly accurate team talent map.
Question 9. can also be used create a quick team “NPS” score.
At gro.team we like to end the first week of a new assignment with a “Week One Playback” with the person that sponsored the appointment. It’s a great opportunity to discuss the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) found so far and calibrate it against what the sponsor wants.
Remember to add value to your client in any way you can as well. It’s not just about the goals. Doing things like sharing their job postings on LinkedIn, mentioning them in any interviews you do, retweeting their tweets, liking their Facebook page, and so on, all help.
Don’t “penny pinch” the client either. What “goes around comes around” so if taking a phone call or sending a quick email in non-client chargeable time helps solve a problem or keep momentum up then do it. You’ll be judged on your impact at the end of the day.
The last thing to remember is…to know when to move on.
You know when you’ve achieved your goals or hit the diminishing returns point on the value curve.
Don’t wait to be replaced. Proactively suggest a new way to add value to the client if one is appropriate, or move on to your next challenge with another successful engagement under your belt.
So there you have it. To be a successful interim CTO consultant you need to chose the right role, deliver as much value as you can, and then move on as soon as you’ve done it.
We summarise it at gro.team with our motto of “Be Of Value”. If you do that at all times you will be successful.
Being an interim CTO consultant won’t be for everyone but if you get your sense of accomplishment from delivering business impact and enjoy variety and challenge then maybe it’s for you?
Interested? Give us a shout on email@example.com or 0800 246 5735 for an informal chat…
We’re getting a lot of “cries for help” lately at gro.team from CTOs/CIOs who are finding themselves at the wrong end of the digital disruption imperative.
Their organisation has woken up to the need to “go digital” and either they have been blamed implicitly/explicitly for the failure to change in the past or the view has been formed that they don’t have the skills necessary to lead their organisation through digital transformation.
This isn’t anybody’s fault of course.
The business world is going through possibly the period of highest change since the industrial revolution and suddenly what is wanted and needed from a CIO is very different from what made a lot of CIOs successful in the past.
Mobile (mobile is overtaking web usage), Social (we’re all in a 24/7 network now), and SaaS/Cloud (software really is eating the world) have changed our opportunities and competitive threats forever.
New waves of disruption from Drones, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics are not hard to foresee..
Some CIOs are riding these waves and have quite happily moved to the intersection of business, product and emerging technology – but others haven’t.
The good news is that if you have successfully led technology transformation in the past then your business, people, change, and technology leadership skills are great raw material.
Give us a shout here for a discreet informal chat about our coaching and workshop services.
We have people who are doing it, have done it, and are happy to share their experiences and make you successful.
We were recently asked to help a rapidly growing online Gaming site in scaling their IT capacity 10x….in six months before a big sporting event…gulp.
To kick off an gro.teamer ran a two day scaling workshop on site with their very talented CTO and technical team and together they;
– Created an agreed view of exactly what their platform looked like (which is not as easy as it sounds with a complex and rapidly evolving IT platform).
– Got a consensus on where the single points of failure and capacity constraints were most likely to be.
– Put these these common areas/functionalities such as “MySQL database” or “redis” on the wall.
– Invited all the participants to write potential mitigation approaches on Post-it notes and attach them to the appropriate area.
– Consolidated and de-duplicated the scaling ideas having discussed each one objectively (“no bad ideas..”)
– Grouped these ideas into things
(1) They wanted to do in the next six months
(2) Things to look at after that
(3) Things we would hold in reserve as “Plan B” ideas.
– They then used a “Planning Poker” rituals to get a consensus on t-shirt sized estimates for both effort and impact of the themes.
– It was clear by this stage what the low effort/high impact areas of activity were so they roughly sequenced them.
– Ta da..they had created a “plan” of how they would/could scale 10x in 6 months. It had been genuinely co-created and not imposed on anyone by anyone.
The feedback from the Tech Team was very positive..although initially sceptical (“we know what to do”) they felt that it had been an inclusive and creative process and they were happy to take ownership for an aggressive plan that they had very much co-created.
The gro.team person went to the airport very impressed with what they had achieved in two days.
On to their next challenge..please give us a shout for similar impact here