In November 2022, CTO Craft partnered with Code Climate to survey technology leaders in relation to tech leadership in disrupted times. The main challenges reported for 2022 were, unsurprisingly, hiring followed by the reprioritisation of business objectives. However, the survey also focused on looking forward to 2023, and the expected challenges are, again, probably of no surprise, budget issues.
However, there were fascinating additional insights about leadership challenges regarding the pandemic and generally concerning the current climate. There were concerns about adapting to change individually and guiding a team through change. We will dig into these topics in this blog to highlight areas of tech leadership that may not be so obvious.
Expectations of the tech industry in 2022
While the pandemic forced digital transformation and remote working for many organisations, 2022 may have been viewed as an opportunity for tech leaders to relish the changes and embrace and improve flexibility and resiliency in the aftermath. It was also a year to purposefully review, reskill and strengthen teams and people.
According to Deloitte, the main tech trends for 2022 were:
- Evolving a hybrid workforce – due to experience gained during COVID, tech organisations would focus on developing their cultures and experimenting with collaborative solutions.
- Developing cloud and XaaS (everything-as-a-service) and taking it to the next level.
- Planning and creating future supply chains.
- Increasing the focus on sustainability issues and ESG (environmental, social, and governance).
“Instead of managing an immediate crisis, leaders can lay solid foundations for future innovation and growth.” Deloitte.
But how did our members view 2022; what changes did they encourage, what issues did they face and what do they predict for 2023?
The purpose of the survey was not only to gain insights into real challenges for tech leaders in 2022 but to focus on the perceived issues and opportunities in the coming year.
52% of respondents were CTOs, followed by 15% of Heads of
Technology/Development/Engineering, 10% of Engineering Managers, 8% VP or SVP of Engineering. The rest of the respondents comprised Engineering or Technical Directors, CIOs and others.
The survey was completely anonymous to ensure that you, as respondents, felt comfortable being open in your answers.
While we can’t discount the truisms from the survey feedback, some results were predictable.
For example, in 2022, the leading causes of disruption to business, according to our respondents, were:
- Hiring challenges (just over 50%)
- Reprioritisation of business objectives (40%)
- A drop in revenues (30%)
- Unable to secure investment (24%)
Other causes not included in our list were technical challenges, stretched budgets, market uncertainty and remote working.
Heading into 2023, the main challenges to productivity are expected to be budget issues (54%), shifting business priorities (42%) and a need for more skilled engineers due to recruitment competition (29%).
Other responses to expected challenges were:
“Hyper-Growth – having enough cash flow to sustain rapid scalability.”
“Emotion overhead from everything else going on in the world.”
“Making good use of all the new staff we have,” and
“Potential employee attrition.”
The not-so-predictable responses
Almost 40% of respondents said they understand their team’s capacity well, and only 4% said they don’t understand it very well.
17% of tech leaders said they always deliver on business commitments and 70% said they do most of the time. Thankfully, no one said they never do!
Almost 60% said it’s relatively easy to diagnose the root cause when team commitments go off track, yet only 13% said it’s easy to and a quarter said it’s difficult.
And how do tech leaders intend to motivate their engineers in 2023?
- 45% said they intended to use engaging work
- 20% said they would focus on career paths
- 18% said learning and development
- 8% said compensation
- 5% said they would focus on work variety
- 4% said other (a mixture of above)
The impact of the pandemic on tech leadership
It’s hard to imagine a year when we don’t equate change or disruption to the pandemic, but according to the survey, it hasn’t had a detrimental impact on business in 2022.
Just over half of respondents said that the pandemic has changed how their business operates in the long term. The reasons included organisations becoming 100% remote working, increased caution and, therefore, more short-term projects and budget changes. However, 36% said the pandemic hadn’t changed the long-term operation of their business, and 14% said it’s too soon to tell.
Furthermore, although the pandemic may impact future business, it has only had a minimal effect on business disruption in 2022, as only 11% said that pandemic-related challenges were the main causes of disruption last year.
Tech leaders were hugely impacted in 2022 by numerous factors and will face ongoing challenges in 2023. When we asked about the issues they faced in 2022 and what they foresee for the next twelve months, there were some interesting themes and feedback.
Communication, however large or small, has been crucial for success, according to tech leader feedback. One leader said that communication by leaders in a hybrid workplace is essential but also within each team. They added, “Even the small things count, like a staff engineer’s messages on a Slack channel.”
However, there were also comments about not over-communicating, as leaders may resist because they don’t want to treat engineers like children, “If you over-communicate, anyone who doesn’t care will ignore it, but anyone anxious will then know what the status is.”
Other respondents said that leaders must be pragmatic and focus on business outcomes, listen to staff and ensure clear communication about the current situation, “We are not actors – keeping things from staff is always difficult, and this goes double for now.”
There was also feedback about the changing approach to managing others, as respondents said that managing remotely is very different to managing people onsite and, “Inexperienced founders have struggled with understanding that people are effective when remote. This has had a major impact on retention and recruitment post-pandemic.”
In addition, according to respondent feedback, in 2023, leaders need to be nimble and react to shifting priorities, they must be able to balance the business needs with reduced budgets, learn to build high-performing teams remotely and communicate proactively and on an empathetic level. They added that learning the art of really listening, absorbing and reflecting to their people before responding will be fundamental to collaboration.
There’s no right or wrong way to approach strategy for your business as every organisation will differ. However, there was feedback from tech leaders about suggestions for a strategic focus over the next twelve months. Here’s what they said:
- “In the turbulent economic and political environment, communicating a clear long-term vision for the organisation is more challenging, but also more critical to success.”
- “Align individual aspirations with company goals.”
- “Salary is going to be a difficult discussion this year, so finding other ways to encourage the team to stay and play ball will be the challenge.”
- “Remote working is convenient but turns your colleagues into unknown people. It’s important to strengthen the relationship and allow some room for personal connections.”
- “There is even more need to communicate proactively and on an empathetic level. Clear roles & goals make a huge difference.”
In a perfect world of technology, you’d have the right team in place; people who are engaged, motivated and committed to staying with your organisation and giving their best. You’d have the ideal solutions to onboard individuals in person and remotely, and you’d boast original ways to differentiate your organisation to attract and retain the best talent. However, we know that engineers are in short supply, so what do leaders see as their people challenges in 2023?
- How to build and fulfil employee purpose.
- Needing to take the pulse of your team more often.
- Trying to ensure that leadership doesn’t turn into micromanagement.
- Finding skilled candidates, especially those with start-up experience in Europe.
- The ability to scale up the technical team due to the change to remote working and associated higher salary expectations.
- Finding ways to enhance collaboration and communication for a more remote workforce.
There were other thought-provoking tech leadership insights too. One respondent said that they didn’t see the challenges in 2022 as any different from previous challenges, but it’s just that some generational changes are more noticeable (e.g. Gen Z attitudes at work).
Another tech leader said they feel that leaders are being put under far more pressure and the engineers are calling the shots, so we need to find ways to manage this.
And finally, one respondent suggested that it’s time to ditch the traditional job description and resume and, “Align people to business objectives, technology stack, and architectural strategy with greater accuracy and velocity to meet the exponential rate technology must be built for tomorrow’s market. We’ve proven that AI can better identify, select and validate than traditional sources and recruiters. It is time that those roles are sunsetted and utilise that recruiting talent to build empathetic relationships with potential candidates better.”
Thank you for being involved in this survey. Hopefully, these interesting tech leadership insights will help you to understand your tech leader peers and the challenges they faced in 2022 and where they foresee challenges and opportunities for 2023. And the input and information sharing don’t end here. We have a Community of over 8,000 members where a wealth of tech leadership information is shared. And the same goes for our Bytes sessions, blogs and fast-approaching May conference (watch this space as announcements will be coming soon).
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