BY L. GARY BOOMER
From tech geek to top dog
role is not
Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of
Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.
The next leader in your firm could be an information technology professional or chief information officer.
Sounds strange to some, but the next wave
of leaders must have a better understanding
of technology strategy for firms to compete in
this global, social and mobile environment.
I have said for several years that I T professionals should have a seat at the management
table; however, most firms have resisted this
strategy and justified it by the fact that many
IT professionals did not have the required
business savvy and communication skills.
The same could be said for many delivery
partners who are primarily focused on the
delivery of technical services to clients. The
purpose is to demonstrate a trend that is occurring, make you think, and allow firms to
take advantage of the trend as they select and
develop their future leaders.
Most technology people do not enter a firm
with the idea of becoming the chief executive,
chief operating officer or even perhaps the
CIO, but with proper development a CIO can
become a COO or CEO. It is certainly easier
politically if the CIO is also a CPA, but it is
not a necessity, in my opinion. CIOs and IT
professionals are heavily involved in most
business processes due to the fact that technology cuts across all areas of the practice:
tax, audit, sales, marketing, administration,
niches and consulting.
This exposure to the entire firm, rather than
just a department, provides knowledge that
many of today’s managing partners and CEOs
did not get until they were in their current position. Granted, it takes a person with unique
skills and the desire to lead a professional
service organization where the firm comes
first, rather than the individual. Jim Collins,
author of Good to Great, describes this as a
Level 5 leader. The keys to success, regardless of background and advancement, are
leadership and communication skills. Most
members of a firm want to follow a leader
with a dream or vision.
What are the required skills and why are they
so important? How are they developed? Are
there tools that will assist in the development
of a management team? These are all impor-
tant questions and I will try to address them
with brevity due to the fact that simplifica-
tion is generally required in order to break
through the ceiling of complexity.
THE RIGHT TOOLS
There are tools that can identify the unique
abilities of any leader or employee. We have
had great success using the Kolbe Index and
various team-building tools. The index is
easy to use, affordable and requires a limited
amount of time ( 20 minutes). Your score does
not change and there is no “right” score or
profile. Scores can be aggregated to develop
a team synergy report identifying where you
and the firm have strengths and weaknesses.
The results are liberating to most people and
improve their communication skills quickly.
The biggest challenge is firms typically hire a
group of “Mini-Me’s”, and then wonder why
the team doesn’t function properly.
As you review this list, it may quickly
become apparent that your technology
professional(s) do not have many of these
skills. The options are to develop your I T professionals or recruit from the market. Going
to the outside is not as easy as it might appear due to the current market demand for
I T professionals, particularly CIOs.
Most firms’ infrastructure is very complex,
with the silos of tax, audit and attest, and the
firm back office. Firms have as many as 10
times the number of applications as their clients to support, and have utilized a silo approach, rather than an enterprise approach,
to systems. This results in both complexity
and increased costs of maintenance.
For the past three years, we have offered
a program called The CIO Advantage. It is
focused on IT professionals who desire to
advance and provides a peer network and
developmental sessions. The results have
been amazing, with many participants taking
on significant leadership and management
roles in their firms. The biggest challenge
has been to focus on the communications,
planning, project management and team-building skills. The tendency is to want to
maintain technical superiority. Those who
diversify their skills become much more valuable to their firms. Several have moved into
COO roles, with another being considered for
the firm’s next CEO.
The CIO role is not for every I T profession-
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