Tuesday, September 11, 2012

What is a Chief Evangelist? Besides CRAZY!

I have been thinking a great deal about the following question...

What is a chief evangelist?  I am one (at least my card says so), but what the hell does this really mean?

Here is a scenario that I live through every day now.  I meet someone (it can be at home or at work) when I inevitably tell them my title/role (either by giving them a card or telling them my role) they do one of three things

1.  They laugh with a smirk like my job is bullshit
2.  They are really interested and curious
3.  They are actually envious because my card is cooler than their card (which is a funny reaction to me).

The reality is this.  I work in a role (and have my whole career) that is mushy, squishy and for many an easy way to totally dismiss the value we try to bring everyday to our work.  

In fact, I often will react to all of the differing reactions to try and defuse the awkwardness by saying, "I don't know what it means either, but that's the title they gave me."  My response is to try to bring jokey clarity to  to the moment.  What moment?  The fact that people are trying nicely not to admit they have no idea what I actually do in a role they can't fit into a traditional box.  And as I have learned for many years, when people don't understand it they often ostracize you or ignore what you can do to help.  Jeez, I have had people I am interviewing for jobs questioning why they are even talking to me at the beginning of the interview because if the title can't be tied to legitimate revenue generation in a way they understand it, then the person must be a laughing joke that no one pays attention to.

For me...it is my career.  I have lived on the front end of the business since I started in it.  I have held following roles over 15 years.

New Products and Technology Scientist (the easiest to follow)
Technology Broker (Huh?)
Open Innovation Networker (Squeeze me?)
Global Vice President of Innovation (How the hell do you measure that?)
Chief Evangelist (Hardy har har).

I am clear on what I do, and now I understand that it is my fault they don't understand the wacky path my career has taken me.  In fact, I have bubbled it down the following way.  I am two things an Innovation Navy Seal and a Muse. 

Innovation Navy Seal - I like to land on the beach before the army gets there, use my specialized skills to identify the opportunity to take the beach so I can guide the army onto the beach successfully.  I don't need much help to figure out the path, but to actually take the beach I need the resources the army brings so they can successfully take the beach quickly and with limited casualties.  If I were in charge of the beach everyone might die, because I can't manage the  details of actually taking the beach.  After giving them the path to the take the beach, I leave for the next one.

Muse - It is fun to be part of working with partners to provide a different spin on things.  You are there to help partner to make it bigger, broader, and different.  You don't own that decision, but through strong relationships you help work to see things collaboratively that are usually missed.  You help partner to make ideas bigger and better with the knowledge your partner has but you don't.

I am digressing.  Why write about this when talking about a chief evangelist?  Because it needs a definition that helps one avoid the laugh...

Here is my definition based on my experience doing weird jobs for many years.

A Chief Evangelist is the CTO of the marketplace.

After two years of doing this job, it has become clear that this role is very important to help shape the direction the market is going.  It is not about shaping the market from a business perspective as much as a cultural one.  It is about working with both the sales function, the product function, the marketing function and the services function to understand what helps create new deals, what makes people say yes to them and ultimately what it takes to manage those deals once they are signed.  It is about bringing the needs of the customer to the development of the product with recommendations focused on bringing the greatest total value to the greatest number of customers.  It is about helping be part of sending the message to the market by shouting out the wonders of your offering and how it helps create and do unique things for the market.

Being a Chief Evangelist is about helping people see over the horizon why this new idea is worth investing in, why it is worth doing so with your company and why you are going to help them champion this new idea across their company.

Being a Chief Evangelist is about being willing to push the envelope on behalf of your partner by standing next to them when they fight within their organization as well as with  your own organization.  Without your support those who believe in change need the help of someone who understands not only what that change can bring, but why it is important and how to show people where they must walk to get value from it.

Being a chief evangelist is helping coalesce the needs of the market with the efforts of your organization.  The market speaks one way and you are responsible to make sure the market's broad descriptions can be prioritized and discussed in your organization in a way the brings the maximum revenue growth.

Being a chief evangelist is about showing others the skills they need to more successfully convince others why they need to buy into the change your company is selling.

Being a chief evangelist is to have a thick skin for those who simply think that careers are something that are made up of roles and not based on the skills we acquire.  For many years, I have built skills as the center of my efforts and figure the roles will find me.  As an evangelist, I am a change agent who works to bring tangible value to any situation that it is needed.  I want to own the start (Innovation Navy Seal) but not the implementation.  Why is that more valuable?  Because the market is constantly changing and to be the best navy seal one can be we must live on the edge and not on the beach too long.

I have been given career advice for years not to talk about being an innovator or a change agent because it scares most people off and makes them believe you are not valuable and full of fluff.  While I agree this has definitely been a challenge for me in my time in Corporate America, I ignore it.  Why?  Because there is a need for those interested in the challenge of working at the front of the funnel.  And while I never dismiss the advice that one needs to bring tangible value, I am finding that by focusing on building the unique perspectives and skills to take on these difficult roles, one is able to bring change faster and tangible value more quickly.

More concretely...How does an innovator describe what they do at the highest level.  I give credit to a very inspirational man, John Jenson (link here), who helped me when I was down.  He helped me define what I do...

Here it is...

All companies have two things; their products and services they create and their balance sheet.  You need one to drive the other.  Between these two incredibly important things is a hole.  This hole is filled with things like culture, processes and new ideas.  All of them build both your products and services and the balance sheet, but when you don't have them you end up having a mess.  A change agents job is to make sure that hole is filled and a strong bridge is built.  I work on making that bridge strong and unassailable.

A chief evangelist does the same, only for a companies' products and services that are constantly changing for a balance sheet this trying desperately to gain a foothold so it can grow. 

Being a CTO for the marketplace is as important as being a CTO who builds great technology for the marketplace.

Without a Chief Evangelist and a CTO you could run the risk of being to slow in a market that moves faster than ever....

No comments:

Post a Comment