Impact Tuning: Tech Leadership

The theme recently has been all about drastically improving teams’ impact. In a tech climate where companies are no longer growing like crazy, and startups are expected to create a *gasp* business, efficacy is on everyone’s minds. Luckily for us, this more organic and sensible industry enables us to drive impact more easily, which is almost impossible to optimize for when teams hire like crazy. This article covers one key aspect of impact tuning: what you should be doing differently as the leader or the tech executive.

Value Mindset

First, we must know what impact even means in your case. Having talked with hundreds of tech executives in the past year, many are unclear about this. That’s why we keep hearing about tech debt, code quality, refactoring, and such technical aspects as a signal of aptitude. However, we can all come up with examples of companies with shoddy tech that did spectacularly well or startups with brilliant engineers and state-of-the-art code that had to close up shop. As a leader, thinking about impact has to revolve around business value.

So, try and make more decisions using a lens of value. For example:

  • Decide on hiring for new roles and promotion by considering ROI first. Will this person create considerably more value than the salary cost?
  • In general, are you setting up your organization for profitable growth? Too many startups end up with R&D orgs that have to grow linearly with the business, missing the point of software being profitable because it’s supposed to be a high-margin business.
  • Your tech investments need to be justified. Therefore, switching frameworks, rewriting, etc., should all be done not because it’s the team’s preference du jour but because it makes clear business sense.
  • Default to making the organization results-aligned. Having functional teams, e.g., backend and frontend, often makes people concentrate on the wrong stuff.

Move Upstream

One has to genuinely be an executive in the company, not solely in the title. Only by doing that can you fulfill your potential and capitalize your technology. While you can read all about the concept of moving upstream in The Tech Executive Operating System, we can boil down the starting point to one thing: Being an active participant in the meetings that matter.

To do that, first, you have to ensure that you’re in the room. For some of you, that’s trivial, e.g., for cofounders. Others might need to elbow their way to get an invite and a seat at the table. That’s fine. It’s not being “political” or about ego. It’s about the fact that a tech startup would be ridiculous not to include its tech executives in strategy and roadmap discussions. Once you honestly believe that, making others see things similarly will become easier.

The second part is about ensuring you’re capable of being an effective participant once you’re there. That won’t be the case if you are not business-literate enough and don’t possess enough product mastery to grok the issues at hand and convey your message in a jargon-free manner.

Often, by merely focusing with clients on these two aspects—value thinking and moving upstream—we see their teams drastically increase results within a few iterations. You can make this happen by the end of the year if you set your mind to it.