IT can contribute to an organisation broadly on three levels and good CIOs deliver at all of them. Unfortunately many IT executives get stuck in the mire of the lower levels and never break through to the top.
At the lowest level, no large organisation could function today without the support of effective information systems keeping the lights on. This is what McKinsey’s call “being in the race” and no executive would seriously deny that it is an essential for modern business. But they can be less generous in accepting some of its consequences. A fit for purpose IT service isn’t a trivial achievement, and whilst they may accept that it is problematic, few on the board truly understand the difficulties involved.
The level above this, McKinsey’s have called “winning the race.” Many CIOs actively seek to add new forms of value through innovation to various parts of the business. This is not something an IT department can impose, so relationships, teamworking, and effective dialogue become critical – and this is where the accusation arises that too many IT executives don’t talk the language of business. Effective business relationships have to bear a lot of strain, so they rely upon good bandwidth for effective and sometimes difficult interpersonal communication. Your business colleagues have to trust you to deliver, they know it is difficult but they don’t care – their jobs are difficult too. Effective communication is essential.
McKinsey’s call the ultimate level of IT contribution “changing the rules.” This occurs when the CEO invites you to help rethink business strategy and create the future of the entire organisation. This is what we are constantly told CIOs should be doing, but it only happens when the CEO believes you have something of value to contribute at this level and the rest of the top team trusts you. Instead of wondering whether you will be invited to sit at the strategy table, you should ask: “am I talking the language that would influence strategy discussions? Do I have a broad enough understanding of the business and deep enough knowledge of how the different components fit together? Have I built effective and robust relationships with the other executive directors?”
IT creates dependencies very quickly and effective relationship building has become more important with each decade. It works through building and maintaining rapport through effective communication, and delivering on promises. Whilst it may still be acceptable for the research, manufacturing and sales functions of a large group to work relatively independently of each other, IT needs to be able to work with, support and create value with all of them simultaneously. Trust is absolutely key: each executive director has to depend upon your contribution and trust you will deliver. Is that true in your organisation?
Here’s your take-away for executive success:
1. Manage technical delivery to a high standard. Use whatever help you need to ensure your team is up with the best and is operating effectively. Invest in yourself with a bit of modern leadership development. If it works for you think about the others in your team you depend upon to give an effective lead.
2. Ensure your customers have realistic expectations and always keep your promises. This is important and you should practice missing deadlines in your personal life for immediate feedback (forget anniversaries and break promises as an experiment in a safe environment). You may be surprised how quickly your relationships react.
3. Look to your laurels. How do you deserve to be treated? What does everyone know about you? Ask around. Figure out how much value you create at the three levels. Oh, and learn to talk like your executive peers.
4. Then look into the mirror and ask yourself: are you a mover and shaker? Could you have influence at board level? What do you see as the keys to winning greater influence? Go do them!
Contact Brinley Platts on 07973 745 640 at CIODEVELOPMENT.COM to find out how you can engage your colleagues and team on the issues raised by this article.