Why Execs Under-Appreciate Architecture — and 3 Steps That Will Flip That Upside Down

Dec 7, 2021
Written by
Charles Araujo | Best-Selling Author
Charles Araujo | Best-Selling Author

Why Execs Under-Appreciate Architecture — and 3 Steps That Will Flip That Upside Down

Your leadership team is in a tough spot. I’m not trying to make you feel sorry for them — as a business or enterprise architect, you have your own challenges to handle. But here’s the kicker: your challenges and their challenges are deeply intertwined — and solving your challenges may be part of the solution to theirs.

Let me explain.

Enterprise leadership teams are facing an unprecedented onslaught of change. The market is shifting beneath their feet, customer expectations are changing daily, and there is an unrelenting need to “go digital” (even if they don’t fully understand what that means).
Yet amid all that change, they are still expected to keep costs under control and meet traditional performance expectations — even while all that change is increasing operational complexity and reinforcing silos. Doesn’t sound like much fun, right?

This pressure is why it’s easy for them to ignore the vital work you do and why, if you come to them talking about the need to “invest in architecture,” it will fall on deaf ears. They are just too consumed with dealing with this onslaught of challenges to pay attention to what sounds to them like overhead. But what they don’t understand is that those investments in architecture that you’re asking for may very well be the answer (at least in part) to their challenges.  So, it’s your job to help them understand that. And I’m going to help you do it.

continuous change digital enterprise architecture executive

The Business Challenges Distracting Your Leadership Team

Before we can get to the bit you care about — how to make your leadership team appreciate what you do — we need to start with their favorite subject: themselves!

I know that sounds a bit cheeky, but it’s not a slight. It’s just human nature: we’re all most concerned with our own situation and challenges, especially when things get turned upside down. And for enterprise leaders, the last decade or so has basically been a constant churn.

The playbook that they used to drive their day-to-day decisions has been thrown out the window, and they are now faced with a steady stream of novel challenges — situations that did not exist just a few short years ago. The consumerization of technology has changed customer expectations — and they remain in a continuous state of change no matter what your organization sells or to whom. The fact is that we’re all consumers, and it’s impossible for us not to bring the expectations set by consumer tech companies to every interaction we have.

This experiential shift is what is also increasing the pressure around all things digital. The problem is that it ends up creating this sinking feeling that they should be “doing more,” but they don’t necessarily know what that should look like. This ambiguity, as you might expect, leads to a lot of thrashing and flailing. The irony is that all the gnashing of teeth that these changes create obscures their real need: visibility, adaptability, and executional confidence.

And that’s where you come in.  If you can present architecture in the right light and in the right way, it will become apparent to them that it is precisely what will provide them this powerful triumvirate — and you won’t have to sell it at all.

present digital enterprise architecture

Why Architecture is the Answer — and What’s Holding You Back

I can feel you nodding from here. Of course, you know that architecture is the answer. That’s what you’ve been trying to tell them all along! But that’s actually part of the problem.

I’m going to walk you through exactly why that is and how you can flip the conversation with your leadership team on its head, but before I do, I need to dispense a little tough love.

There’s a good chance that you suffer from something called the curse of knowledge mixed with a dose of imposter syndrome.

If you’re not familiar with it, imposter syndrome is the idea that despite being knowledgeable and having extensive expertise in a subject, you can still feel inadequate or that you’re not qualified to discuss it.

It’s something that can often happen in the exchanges between executives and non-executives. “Those executives clearly know things I don’t, that’s why they’re in that position, right?” you think to yourself. “So what makes me think that I have anything of value to offer?

As a result, you can become shy and tend to keep your thoughts and ideas to yourself. And then, it gets mixed with the curse of knowledge. The term was coined by a Stanford researcher and simply means that once you know something, it’s impossible to not know it or imagine that someone else doesn’t either.

It’s why you wrongly assume that those executives understand everything that they need to know about architecture and how it can help them solve their challenges. Because you know it all so intimately, you can’t fathom that they don’t understand it at least well enough to see its value.

But they don’t. You and I both know that when an organization is facing a period of tumultuous change, architecture is what provides the visibility to see the whole as-is landscape, the perspective necessary to chart the right path to a future outcome, and allows organizations to execute with confidence because everyone will be on the same page working from the same starting point.

But they don’t. You need to get in front of your executive teams and help them see that they can find the answer to their challenges by helping you build an evermore robust architectural capability.

build a robust strategy with enterprise architecture

The Intellyx Take: 3 Steps to Influencing Your Leadership Team

So we’ve come full circle. You are rightfully advocating for more significant investments in your organization’s architectural capabilities. But they’re not getting very far because your leadership team is distracted by these big hairy challenges they’re facing.

And you’ve probably not been doing yourself any favors by either continuously beating the architectural drum or by ignoring it, figuring they were just ignoring you. So what to do?

The good news is that this is one of those situations in which the simplest answer is the best — and there are three simple steps that you can take to get you and your leadership team in sync.

  1.  Start by focusing on their problems.
    Any conversation you have should begin with the acknowledgment that you’re both trying to solve the same set of big hairy problems: theirs. Make it clear that you understand the challenges surrounding the rate of change, shifting customer expectations, and the need to execute digital transformation efforts rapidly.
    That demonstration of empathy will open the door for step 2:
  2. Focusing on the real problem.
    As I covered previously, the real issue your leadership team is facing is the need for crystal clear visibility amid their foggy surroundings. Ask them if it isn’t really those three things we discussed that are the problem: visibility, adaptability, and executional confidence.
    As they nod in agreement, you will have successfully put yourself on the same side as them, as part of the same team solving the same problem. That’s the crucial shift that leads to the final step.
  3. Simply affirm their clarity.
    Once you and they have agreed that you need a way to create visibility, enable adaptability, and ensure executional confidence, the next logical step is to ask what capability can give you those things.

The answer, of course, is a set of architectural tools that allow enterprise leaders to see the big picture, evaluate various pathways, change rapidly as the situation shifts, and maintain control as things change.

And while that answer is obvious to you, it will be a revelation to them. As you have this level of conversation with your leadership team, you’ll see the lightbulbs go off. At that point, the discussion will shift to which tools will best provide these benefits and the best way to adopt them.

The end state is the classic win-win. You get the tools you need to do your job, sure. But more importantly, your organization and its leaders will get the capabilities they need to compete and adapt in a constantly changing market. And that’s a win you’ll both be celebrating.

Copyright © Intellyx LLC. BiZZdesign is an Intellyx client. None of the other companies mentioned in this article are Intellyx clients. Intellyx retains full editorial control over the content of this paper.