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ASAC 2006 Banff, Alberta

John Medcof Haniyeh Yousofpourfard (PhD student) Michael G. DeGroote School of Business McMaster University

THE STRATEGIC LEADERSHIP OF TECHNOLOGY MANAGEMENT The upper echelons perspective is applied to the strategic and suprafunctional leadership of technology management; providing fresh insights, a number of research propositions and implications for managers; particularly concerning organizational power issues for the Chief Technology Officer.

Introduction In the latter part of the twentieth century, and into the twenty-first, technological innovation has become a major competitive driver in many industries and firms (Dodgson, 2000). To capitalize on these drivers organizations must ensure that technology plays an appropriate role in their strategies. Implicit in this requirement is the need for effective leadership in technology management (Elkins and Keller, 2003). Effective technology leadership is needed at all levels of the firm from basic operations to the strategic apex, but there are serious gaps in our knowledge of the degree to which this is happening and in our understanding of what kinds of leadership should be exercised at the different levels. Uttal, Kantrow, Linden and Stock (1992) have identified three levels of technology leadership, based upon their field studies. The first, functional leadership, involves managing day-to-day R&D tasks such as budgeting, scheduling projects and generating new ideas and products. The second, strategic leadership, has to do with managing the integration of R&D with the broader goals and strategy of the organization as a whole. The third, supra-functional leadership, involves the formulation and execution of organizational strategy ensuring an appropriate role for technology. There is a sense among top technology leaders that they have not been included at the strategic and supra-functional leadership levels to the extent they would expect given the importance of technology to their firms (Uttal et al, 1992). This problem seems to be most acute in North America, where Roberts (2001) found that only 60% of companies had their top technology leader sitting at the top executive table, while in Europe it was 67% and in Japan it was 91%. This state of affairs is reflected in the research literature on leadership in technology and innovation management. As will be shown below, there is considerable research on functional leadership but very little on strategic or supra-functional. This dearth of research attention should be rectified to further out theoretical understanding of top level technology leadership, and to enable practitioners to more effectively perform their leadership roles. This paper will review the literature on leadership in technology management and explore some new perspectives on leadership at the top levels. This will lead to a number of research propositions and some advice for management practitioners.


Functional Leadership of Innovation and Technology Management There is a considerable literature on the leadership of innovation and technology management at the functional level (e.g. Berson and Linton, 2005; Elkins and Keller, 2003; Hirst and Mann, 2004; Thamain, 2003; Mumford, Scott, Gaddis and Strange, 2002) including two special issues of Leadership Quarterly (Mumford and Licuanan, 2004). This literature concerns such issues as the leadership of innovative individuals and teams, the role of champions in innovation success, and the challenges of transferring technology from research to development. This work has provided us with a great deal of useful information and considerable insight into technology leadership at the functional level and should be continued to further our understanding in this important area. However, this body of work should be complemented with more vigorous research attention to technology leadership at the strategic and supra-functional levels. The functional level literature does open the door to a consideration of leadership at the higher levels, as seen in the examples of Greens (1995) and Harris and Lamberts (1998) studies of the effects of top management support on R&D project success, but it does not explore the issues in a systematic way. For the most part, when strategic or top management issues are considered, their implications for R&D functional effectiveness are focused upon. There is little attention to the upper echelons context of technology strategy-making. The Chief Technology Officer (CTO) There is another body of literature, though, which has attempted to address issues of technology leadership beyond the functional level. That literature has to do with the Chief Technology Officer (CTO), for example, Gwynne (1996), Smith (2003), and Uttal, Kantrow, Linden and Stock (1992). The CTO is the highest ranking manager of technology in an organization and, in theory, is expected to sit at the executive table with other executives, such as the Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Chief Operations Officer (COO), Chief Information Officer (CIO) and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Not all firms call their ranking technology manager a CTO. Some call it the Vice-President of Technology or of Research, for example. Usually the term CTO is used to generically refer to the highest ranking manager of technology when that manager is part of the top management team in the firm. In some firms the top ranking technology manager does not sit at the executive table and may be called Chief Scientist, Manager of Research, or some other title that denotes being head of technology but not at the executive level. Because of his or her position, the CTO should be the strategic leader of the technology function and play a pivotal role in ensuring an appropriate inclusion of technology in the strategic considerations of the firm. Ideally the CTO is a technical businessperson deeply involved in shaping and implementing overall corporate strategies (Lewis and Lawrence 1990). Although this idealized characterization of the CTO is set at the strategic and supra-functional levels, most of the research and thinking does not follow through very well at those levels. The CTO literature has primarily concerned the proper role of the CTO and the practical problems facing people in that role. Table 1 provides a brief summary of what the literature says about the CTOs responsibilities and activities under five headings: (1) Aligning Research with Organizational Strategy (2) Leadership of Research, (3) Top Management of Research Activities, (4) External Partnering and (5) CTO Credibility. An examination of the activities listed in categories 1 through 4 of Table 1 shows that most have to do with leadership at the functional level, a few with strategic leadership and, arguably, none with suprafunctional leadership. Even the category, Aligning Research with Organizational Strategy, is primarily about managing research so it becomes aligned with strategy. It is not about providing strong technology participation in strategy formulation and leadership. The one category in Table 1 which does touch upon strategic and supra-functional leadership is the last, CTO Credibility. The papers there have to do with 185

how the CTO can gain the credibility necessary to have his/her voice heard at the executive table when strategy decisions are made. A general point made by these papers is that the CTOs voice is not heard often enough, given the strategic importance of technology and innovation. The further point is made that certain measures can be taken to enhance the CTOs credibility and these are described. The fundamental message here is that the CTO must not be viewed by the other executives as a narrow technical person. The CTO must present as a leader with a good grasp of the whole business and the whole organization, capable of shaping and implementing effective corporate strategy. Table 1 Summary of Research on CTO Responsibilities and Credibility ________________________________________________________________________________ 1. ALIGNING RESEARCH WITH ORGANIZATIONAL STRATEGY Smith (2003) Manage portfolio of research projects to value added to firm Contribute to the strategic direction of the company Providing reliable technical assessments of potential mergers and acquisitions Producing added value to the organization Linking the work of teams to the organizations strategy Lead global market strategy teams

Gwynne (1996) Harris and Lambert (1998) Giordan and Kossovsky (2004)

2. LEADERSHIP OF RESEARCH Smith (2003) Giordan and Kossovsky (2004) Larson (1996) Monitor new technologies assessing commercial potential Integrate R&D into the process of commercial development Value and monetize IP assets Leadership role in driving the innovation process

3. TOP MANAGEMENT OF RESEARCH ACTIVITIES Smith (2003) Harris and Lambert (1998) Internal coordination of the internal network Nurture effective relationships with key people thorough the company Clarifying responsibilities among related teams Measuring team performance, including process, people and customer metrics Expecting transfer of technology between teams Assessing the effectiveness of team-to-team coordination Facilitating the resolution of conflicts between teams Ensuring that teams have access to the right people at the right time Making the best use of a teams time and energy

Continued. ____________________________________________________________________________________ 186

Table 1 (Continued) Summary of Research on CTO Responsibilities and Credibility ____________________________________________________________________________________ 4. EXTERNAL PARTNERING Smith (2003) Giordan and Kossovsky (2004) Larson (1996) Harris and Lambert (1998) Participating in government, academic and industry groups Explaining company products and future plans to the trade media Co-develop and own market and commercialization strategies Develop branding concepts for newly forming offerings Develop global IP entity partnerships Interact with and utilize the resources of universities and government laboratories Partnering- communicating effectively with multiple team leaders Treating the organizations customers as important stakeholders

5. CTO CREDIBILITY Smith (2003) Have been a leader in technology Ability to deal with strategic decisions about future directions of the company Ability to think about technology as a money-making asset, not an end in itself Ability to deal with pressure Ability to measure the invisible performance of technical personnel Ability to focus on long-term results

Gwynne (1996)

Larsen (1996)

Ability to deliver both short-term and long-term value Ability to deliver more than is promised, through the efforts of others ____________________________________________________________________________________ Although the CTO literature does give some attention to strategic and supra-functional leadership, it still fails to appreciate fully the upper echelons context in which the CTO operates. As just seen, much of it is concerned with managing the technology function and its relationship with other parts of the organization. For the most part its frame of reference is the technology function, looking upward and outward to the greater organization. Upper Echelons Management There is another literature, however, with the potential to provide a fresh perspective on top technology leadership, the literature on upper echelons management (e.g. Arendt et al, 2005, Finkelstein and Hambrick, 1996; Roberto, 2003). This upper echelons literature has not heretofore been applied to the issues of the CTO. Two recent papers in this research tradition illustrate the value of this perspective for understanding top technology management, those of Roberto (2003) and Arendt et al (2005). Robertos (2003) empirical paper showed that strategic decisions are made in organizations by a constantly changing set of players consisting of two groups. One is a core group of senior managers who 187

are always present at the table when strategic decisions are made. These are the stable core. And, depending on the strategic choice under consideration, other members of the organization are involved on a decision-by-decision basis. These are the dynamic periphery. Members of the dynamic periphery may formally report directly to the CEO, but are excluded from the stable core for various reasons. Perhaps they are junior. Perhaps the function they lead is not of high strategic importance. Members of the dynamic periphery are often drawn from lower levels in the organization. Such members are involved in some decisions because their expertise is of particular relevance to those decisions. Robertos (2003) findings suggest a characterization of the CTOs dilemma as described above. It seems that in many organizations CTOs are consigned to the dynamic periphery and this is a source of frustration to them. The idealized CTO of the literature is one who is a member of the stable core. But it seems that the CTOs dilemma is not unique. Other direct reports to the CEO may also not be members of the stable core. As implied by Uttal et al (1992), and as will be discussed further below, in an organization in which technology is not strategically critical, this consignment of the CTO to the dynamic periphery may be quite appropriate. On the other hand, consignment of the CTO to the dynamic periphery seems inappropriate in a firm for which technology is a critical contingency. Arendt et al (2005) is another upper echelons paper that has insights for the study of top technology leadership. Arendt et al identify two dominant streams of upper echelons research, those studying chief executive officers (CEOs) and those studying top management teams (TMTs). In the CEO perspective the CEO is portrayed as the decision-maker. After gathering information and advice from various associates in the organization, the CEO makes the critical decisions. In the TMT perspective, the CEO is the first among equals in a group which works collectively as a team to reach decisions by consensus. Both these models have considerable research to support them and provide us with insights into the operations of the strategic apex of the organization. Arendt et al suggest, however, that the upper echelons of most organizations do not operate on a pure form of either of these models. They work instead on what they call The CEO Advisor Model. In this model, various members of the TMT and other organizational actors have information relevant to decisions under consideration. The CEO has various meetings discussing the situation and the most appropriate way to go forward, with the appropriate people. The CEO then makes the decision for the organization. The Arendt et al (2005) study also provides more perspective on what role the CTO might expect to play in the upper echelon. The expectation that all CTOs should expect to be important members of a TMT that makes decisions by consensus seems unrealistic for many organizations. Many organizations just do not operate on that model. This analysis is not inconsistent with Robertos (2003) model described above. An executive might be in the stable core or dynamic periphery of a top management group which might make decisions using any of the three models suggested by Arendt et al. This upper echelons literature suggests a number of contingency issues that are worthy of some research. For example, are there circumstances in which one or the other of the three approaches to top management is more effective? What are the variables in the operation of the stable core and dynamic periphery that determine effectiveness? The general answers to these questions for upper echelons management will have implications for CTOs. Power in the Upper Echelons One set of issues considered in the TMT literature is the degree to which TMTs are actually teams (Hambrick, 1994). There is considerable evidence that TMTs rarely operate as cooperative enterprises in which the members work collaboratively for the greater good of the organization. There is considerable evidence that TMTs are normally fraught with conflict and competition among team members who 188

operate with strong motives of self-interest. In circumstances of strife and competition the ability to influence often boils down to a question of power. Those with power prevail. Those without are overcome. The role and activities of the CTO have not here-to-fore been considered using the perspective of power and conflict models of upper echelons function. Power is defined as the capacity of individual actors to exert their will over others (Finkelstein, 1992, p. 506). Due to the unstructured nature of strategic decisions and the ambiguity attached to them, power can play a critical role in organizations top-level decision-making (Finkelstein, 1992). It is also clear that, in the upper echelons, power is most often wielded as influence rather than as authority. The higher the uncertainty and more unstructured the decisions in a firm, the greater role power and influence play in the decision making process. For the CTO, the question is whether he or she has the power necessary to exert his or her will to ensure the appropriate mobilization of technology by the organization, and to further his or her own career goals, in an arena populated with competing, power savvy executives. Finkelstein (1992), working from the TMT perspective, makes the case for the importance of power in upper echelons strategic leadership and argues that understanding the sources of power in the upper echelons is critical to understanding the strategic decision-making processes there. Finkelstein identified four difference types of power for TMT members: structural, ownership, prestige and expertise. He did empirical work which supported the validity of these constructs and demonstrated the reliability and validity of his measures of them. He defined these four bases of power as follows. Structural power is based upon the formal position that an individual holds in an organization. Usually, the CEO holds the most structural power in the organization. Ownership power is based upon the ownership position in the firm of the actor, and the ability to act as an agent on behalf of shareholders. Links to the founder of the firm can be important if the founder still has significant ownership. Expert power is based in the executives ability to deal with environmental uncertainties and thus impact the success of the organization. This capability is based, in part, on knowledge of the organizations strengths and weaknesses. This expertise enables the executive to influence the organizations strategic decisions. Prestige power is based in personal prestige as a result of external contacts and prestige in the organizations environment. The executives powerful friends and connections bring security to the organization from the institutional environment.

This model of upper echelon power from Finkelstein (1992) dovetails in some respects with the literature on CTOs reviewed above, although the latter body of literature does not explicitly address power issues. The most obvious example of this occurs in the case of expert power. Expert Power Finkelstein presents three measures of expert power, which can be applied to organizational actors in general, and upper echelons managers in particular. All are based on the premise that the more positions the actor has held in the organization the more expert the actor will be about the organization and its functions. This expert knowledge can be translated into power in the strategy-making process. Finkelsteins three operationalizations of expert power are: (1) Total number of different positions the actor has held in the firm, (2) Number of different functional areas (e.g. marketing, manufacturing, R&D) in which the actor has worked in the firm, and (3) The degree to which the functional experience of the actor aligns with the environmental contingencies that are strategically important to the firm. This conceptualization is quite consistent with the statements of Uttal et al (1992) in the CTO literature about the importance of career history for CTO credibility. Uttal et al state that CTOs who have credibility in


the upper echelons very often have served as line officers with profit-and-loss responsibility, sometimes for an entire line of business. In some cases they will have spent a few years directing staff functions other than R&D. These conceptual developments from Finkelstein (1992) can be integrated with the ideas from the CTO literature to yield the following propositions: Proposition 1: Proposition 2: Proposition 3: The more different positions a CTO holds or has held in a firm, the greater will be the organizational power of that CTO. The more different functional areas in a firm in which a CTO has had experience, the greater will be the organizational power of that CTO. The more different critical functional areas in which a CTO has experience, the greater will be the organizational power of that CTO.

These three propositions focus on expert power as Finkelstein (1992) conceptualized and operationalized it. But we should not be constrained to just his particular formulation, although it makes for a solid beginning. For example, Bridenbaugh (1992) and Smith (2003) both make the point that the CTOs technical expertise is usually the cornerstone of his or her credibility at the executive table. The seminal reason for including the CTO is to draw on that expertise in strategic decision making, even when the CTO is part of the dynamic periphery. It follows that this expertise is an important part of the CTOs power base. Proposition 4: The greater the technical expertise of the CTO, the greater will be the organizational power of that CTO.

Other facets of expertise in the upper echelons can be identified, their implications for power hypothesized, and those hypotheses empirically tested. Prestige Power Prestige power is based upon the importance of the executives standing in the institutional environment of the firm (Finkelstein, 1992). Standing in the institutional environment is an indication of the connections, knowledge and influence that can be used to deal with the critical contingencies facing the firm. This power is earned through involvement at different corporate as well as nonprofit boards and the status of those boards in the institutional environment. The executives educational background can play a role as well. Association with respected universities, and the connections which they imply, are taken as an indication of power in and from the institutional environment. These considerations from Finkelstein imply the following for the CTO. Proposition 5: Proposition 6: Proposition 7: Proposition 8: The greater the number of corporate boards on which the CTO sits the greater the CTOs power. The greater the number of non-profit boards on which the CTO sits the greater the power of the CTO. The stronger the financial positions of the firms upon whose boards the CTO sits, the greater the power of the CTO. The more elite the universities from which the CTO has graduated the greater the power of the CTO.


Table 1 which was discussed earlier has a section titled, 4. External Partnering, which includes papers that discuss the role of the CTO in liaising with bodies outside the organization. These papers focus upon the value of these liaisons in furthering the objectives of the organization. They do not address the point made by Finkelstein (1992) that successful exploitation of these relationships for the good of the organization enhances the power of the executive who has the connections. This is another example of the upper echelons literature bringing a new perspective on the role and activities of the CTO. Now that this connection is drawn between these two bodies of literature, the way is open to explore in more detail how the particular kinds of external liaisons that CTOs pursue for the accomplishment of organizational goals can be mobilized by the CTO to enhance his or her power at the executive table. Structural Power Structural Power is based on the formal hierarchy of the organization and the amount of power assigned to the different levels (Finkelstein, 1992). Most organizations have a formal organizational chart which identifies the positions and their relative levels of power. The fewer positions there are above an executive in the chart, the more power that executive has in the organization. Higher compensation is usually associated with higher positions, so compensation is also a measure of power. Some executives hold multiple positions in organizations. Usually, the number of positions held is an indication of power. The following propositions translate Finkelsteins ideas into implications for CTO structural power. Proposition 9: Proposition 10: The fewer the number of individuals in the organization who have higher level positions than the CTO, the greater will be the CTOs power. The closer the compensation (salary, bonus, benefits) of the CTO to that of the most highly compensated executive in the top management group, the greater will be the CTOs power. The greater the number of formal titles that a CTO holds in an organization the greater will be the power of the CTO.

Proposition 11:

Finkelsteins (1992) analysis and these propositions are consistent with the history of the CTO position over the last several decades. The accepted understanding (Roussel, Saad and Erickson, 1996; Smith, 2003) is that before the 1980s technology was not seen as strategically important by most organizations and the top technology position was called such things as the Chief Scientist or Laboratory Manager and was not included in the executive suite. In the eighties and nineties, as the strategic importance of technology for many firms became apparent, CTOs were created and given a seat at the strategy-making table. This creation of executive positions for technology was a reflection of its acknowledged strategic importance and an attempt to give its experts/proponents the power to have an influence on strategic decisions. Propositions 9 and 10 are consistent with the rise in the status and power of the technology function over time. Ownership Power Finkelstein (1992) proposes that the power of an executive is also based in part on the size of his/her ownership position, and that of his/her direct and extended family. Family relationships with other officers of the company also enhance power. A special case may occur if the founder of the firm is still active and/or still has a significant ownership position in the firm, and the executive has a family or other relationship to that founder. These observations, empirically verified by Finkelstein, have the following implications for CTOs.


Proposition 12: Proposition 13:

The greater the percentage of the firms shares held by a CTO and his/ her spouse and children, the greater the power of the CTO. The greater the percentage of the firms shares held by the CTOs extended family (brothers, sisters, parents, grandparents), the greater the power of the CTO. The closer the CTOs family relationship to the founder of the firm, the greater the power of the CTO.

Proposition 14:

Fourteen propositions have now been derived by applying the insights of the upper echelons literature to the literature on CTOs. These propositions are empirically testable using the methodologies developed by Finkelstein, including his operationalizations of the independent variables such as numbers of positions held, comparative compensation levels, percentages of firm shares held by various individuals and numbers of corporate boards. Finkelstein also developed a questionnaire to measure organizational power which is the dependent variable. This questionnaire asks respondents to indicate the organizational power held by named individuals using several indices. But the research need not necessarily be restricted to these measures. For example, another measure of the power of the CTO is whether or not he or she is in the stable core or the dynamic periphery of the strategic decision-making group. This could also be measured as a dependent variable. Our understanding of the power dynamics of the CTOs position can also be enhanced by a consideration of the Strategic Contingencies Theory (SCT) of organizational power (Hickson, Lee, Schneck and Pennings, 1971). SCT states that the power accruing to an organizational unit is determined by its ability to deal with the strategic contingencies facing the firm. The more critical the strategic contingencies which a unit successfully handles, the more power it has in the firm. The same logic applies to individual executives, as seen in Finkelsteins ideas about prestige power. The ability of an executive to deal successfully with important contingencies is usually acknowledged by others so they acquiesce to the leadership of that executive. Although this is the general case and it is probably operative in most firms, it is not always the case. The members of a firm may not accede to the influence of those most able to understand the organization and its strategic contingencies and thus put the organization in jeopardy. Such firms decline. Probably no firm handles these power issues flawlessly but it seem likely that those which come closest to getting it right will be the most successful. These theoretical considerations translate to matters of technology management in the following way. In firms for which technology is a matter of high strategic importance, those individuals most expert in dealing with technology issues should acquire high influence and power in order for the firm to deal effectively with that critical contingency. In a firm in which technology is not a highly significant strategic matter, perhaps marketing or international trade issues are much more important, the technology function and its leader should acquire lesser power and influence. Assuming that the CTO is the focal embodiment of the technological capabilities of the firm, the following propositions are suggested. Proposition 15: In industries in which technology is a highly important strategic contingency, firms with more powerful CTOs will have better financial performance than those with less powerful CTOs. In industries in which technology is not an important strategic contingency, the positive relationship between CTO power and organizational performance will not be found.

Proposition 16:


These two propositions could be tested with the following methodology. The importance of technology for an industry could be operationalized using the technology intensity of the industry. Such measures have already appeared in the literature, for example, Bowonder, Racherla, Mastakar and Krishnan (2005). The CTOs power could be measured using Finkelsteins (1992) instrument, discussed above. Financial performance of the firm could be measured by the usual indices available in annual reports. Implications for Research This literature review and analysis has generated a number of implications for research. Three bodies of literature have been reviewed; one concerned with the functional leadership of innovation and technology, a second concerned with the role and activities of the CTO, and a third with upper echelons management in general. The first two tend to focus on the functional leadership of the technology function and how it can be made more effective. Many useful insights have been gained from this approach and it should be continued in the future to yield more. The CTO literature has also considered, to some extent, strategic and supra-functional leadership. However, most of these analyses are still couched in the perspective of functional leadership. The general upper echelons management literature has not here-to-fore been brought to bear on technology leadership. In this paper that broader perspective has been used to develop some propositions about technology leadership at the strategic and supra-functional levels, most particularly with respect to organizational power. These propositions can provide a focus for an immediate round of empirical research. However, the demonstration here of the power of the upper echelons perspective to illuminate the role of the CTO in new ways is probably of more long-term research significance. The literature on CTOs has never considered the power and politics that the CTO must face in the upper echelons, nor how to deal with them. These issues need to be explored in a longer term research program. Other matters brought to light by the upper echelons perspective also seem worthy of future research. For example, the distinction between the stable core and the dynamic periphery suggested by Roberto (2003) could be examined in the context of firms for which technology is a critical strategic contingency. Does the core-periphery distinction arise in these organizations? If so, how do these dynamics affect the CTO? The upper echelons perspective seems to promise much for future research in technology leadership. Implications for Managers This examination of the role and power of the CTO using the lens of upper echelons theory has brought to light several considerations that have not appeared explicitly in the CTO literature. Yet, there is enough of a connection with the CTO literature to suggest that the insights yielded have practical significance for mangers who lead the technology function and the organization. One implication is that, considering the political realities of the upper echelons, advice for CTOs should include discussions of career aspirations and how to accomplish them, as well as how to contribute to the advancement of the organization. The two are so closely intertwined that success in one is contingent upon success in the other. The CTO must also consider the tools necessary for influence in the upper echelons and must look around to see what matters. Is ownership position an important factor in influence in the organization? Is structural power important or irrelevant? Whatever the answers, there are implications as to how to proceed. Perhaps ownership position through stock acquisition is important not only as a matter of compensation but also as a means of acquiring influence. The research on upper echelons management suggests that these are good questions to explore and that they can have huge impact for the leader who would have influence in the strategy-making of the firm.


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