What is a Fractional Technology Leader?
A fractional technology leader is a highly experienced leader that works less than full time – from a ½-day to 4 days per week, generally outside of a traditional employment relationship, though there are exceptions. Because the fractional CIO, CISO, or CTO is usually not engaged full time, they may work for more than one organization at the same time. The amount of time that a fractional leader works with an organization each week or month, and the length of time they remain with the organization, is flexible and may change from time to time.
The Fractional Value Proposition
The goal when engaging any leader should be to get as much experience as you can afford. The fractional model emphasizes experience over presence and prefers access to more-experienced talent over employment of less-experienced talent. Many organizations find they can engage a fractional leader with much more experience than they would otherwise be able to afford or attract at about the same cost as a lesser-experienced, full-time leader.
Three Key Success Factors
Three key factors will determine how successful a fractional CIO, CISO, or CTO is for an organization.
1. Experience. Organizations should strive to find someone with experience and skills that far exceed what they could typically afford in a full-time hire. A high-caliber leader who has seen and implemented technologies far beyond present capabilities can be an influential game changer, and a person the technology team will follow and the C-suite will respect.
2. Approach. Any leader, including a fractional technology leader, should have an approach in mind when engaging with a new organization. A part-time engagement naturally has gaps in presence (that’s why it’s affordable) that can hinder progress if not managed well. An experienced fractional leader will have an approach that mitigates the impact of these gaps in presence by following an overall strategy and set of principles that allow continuity even though time may be shared across multiple organizations.
3. Flexibility. While an experienced technology leader can reduce the number of unpleasant technical surprises over time, no plan is perfect. A fractional leader may be needed outside of the regular cadence of the part-time work. And, as an organization’s needs change, more or less time may be needed on a regular basis. The flexibility to increase, decrease, extend, or reduce the scope and duration of the engagement is a key value of the fractional model.
Industry Experience and the Fractional Technology Leader
The question of industry experience may surface when engaging a fractional technology leader. Most organizations are much more limited by their technology strategy and execution expertise than the industry expertise among their leadership team. While it is not necessary to completely ignore industry experience within a technology leader (fractional or otherwise), it would be a mistake to prioritize industry experience when total years of technology leadership experience, experience with similar size organizations, and demonstrated experience solving the issues an organization is currently facing may be more relevant.
More than 80% of the responsibilities of technology leaders in most organizations are not industry specific.
The Fractional Bonus
There’s an additional bonus to the fractional technology leader model that we’ve yet to mention. Often when hiring for full-time roles, an organization may burden the role with as many responsibilities as possible to maximize the salary spent. In a CIO role, this generally means expanding across functional expertise (CIO, CTO, and CISO) and adding tactical responsibilities to an otherwise strategic position. These actions tend to undermine the effectiveness of the individual in the role and contribute to less satisfaction overall to both the organization and the leader.
The opportunity to focus on the CIO, CTO, or CISO role in a fractional capacity allows the technology leader to deliver targeted expertise for the time engaged at one or more organizations while freeing up investment to select solutions and skills more appropriate for other needs. This might involve delegating more tactical responsibilities to lesser-experienced technology employees or engaging a managed services provider. More specialized leadership responsibilities like cybersecurity and software development may be solved with a fractional CISO or fractional CTO, respectively.
The fractional technology leader is just one option available in the new approach to viewing technology leadership as a service rather than full- or part-time employees for every role. Be sure to check out similar insights on leadership roles.