CIO’s Next Practice: De-Learning, Re-Learning & Learning Agility

Sunday, May 20, 2012 | comments

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Technology becomes pervasive in modern enterprise today, CIO plays one of the significant business roles; on the other side, the rapidly change business climate also makes CIO feel like to live at the tropical jungle, facing many attacks, in the danger of getting dismissed as techies without business savvy by their executive peers, or getting lagged behind  if becoming too far removed from recent technology trends, some CIOs may also have victim mentality to be a second class executive without seat at big table.

How should CIO survive and thrive at such a dynamic environment? Besides practicing the three principles discussed earlier, the next practice for CIO could be to cultivate learning agility.

Learning agility has been defined via one of Korn/Ferry’s white papers as: the willingness and ability to learn and then apply those lessons to succeed in new situations. Leaders who are learning agile continuously seek new challenges, solicit direct feedback, self-reflect, and get jobs done resourcefully. They see unique patterns and make fresh connections that others overlook.

1. Mental Agility

--the ability to examine problems in unique and unusual ways

To embrace mental agility, CIO may need become critical and creative thinker at the same time, to practice “de-learning’ and “re-learning”, CIO with diversified experiences such as cross-functional, cross-industrial and cross-cultural background may also help them connect dots to approach problems with fresh thinking and unique ways.

The bias of thinking CIO as infrastructure/utility manager only or the high rate of IT project failure rate should make every CIO, young or old to shape the new box of thinking and mental agility, ponder further about  future of IT and CIO as a leadership role to make influences.

2. Self-Awareness/Reflection

--extent to which an individual knows his or her true strengths and weaknesses

Through self-reflection, CIO may understand self best: are you strategist or techie; are you analytic expert or synthetic thinker; are you visionary or solutionary., etc. at most of circumstances, CIO may need wear a couple of hats, take different actions at varies situations. CIO need be a big picture thinker, but also need master some details in which business can take unique advantage to compete for the long term. Such as, that CIOs are well aware of new market trends & technological advancements, and constantly be on the lookout for how these can be leveraged effectively to achieve improvements for the organization- cost efficiency,  end user satisfaction/flexibility, security, and governance.

3. People Agility

-- skilled communicator who can work with diverse types of people

Communication is one of critical factors to decide CIOs’ effectiveness, As they may  need master all styles of conversations to develop situational wisdom and influential competency, to rebuild IT’s reputation as value creator and innovation hub.

The bad communication syndrome may include such as: getting lost in business-IT translation or getting distracted in technical details, the wrong context & KPIs for different audience, or lack of business focus., etc. Best communicator CIOs need know how to present strategically at round table and how to make value debate with business customers; to drive IT staff’s progress via effective conversation of understanding IT project complexity, also have touchy-feely talk with knowing end customers’ concerns. 

4. Change Agility
-- likes to experiment and comfortable with change

Today’s business leaders need to get a new set of skills such as leadership, critical thinking, creativity, ethics, global perspective, and cultural awareness. What other skills are demanded by twenty-first-century business realities? From a couple of academic and consulting surveys, “The key skills include innovating, dealing with situations that you have not dealt with before, possessing the confidence and the experience to be entrepreneurial.  You have to be able to deal with other cultures and situations you’re not familiar with. So, all of these types of soft skills are going to be as important as the technical skills that traditionally thought sufficient.

By very nature of information technology, change is the only constant, the CIOs with learning agility can move out of their comfort zone, take risks, learn from mistakes, and to create the environment for innovation and creativity, reward risks, invest in new revenue generating initiatives. They will be walking the talk- showing the team in a very personal manner that it is imperative to cultivate the culture of learning  stay on top of technology advancements. It means the successful leaders continually learned, bent, and flexed as their work climate changed. In other words, they were learning agile.

5. Result Agility
     --delivers results in challenging first-time situations

Most of IT organizations today still stick to level two or three of maturity for business/IT alignment, muddled in the middle. Through practicing learning agility, CIOs need learn both from their own experience, and from success stories or failure case studies cross-disciplines,  and apply those lessons to succeed in new situations, in order to improve IT project success rate and IT performance maturity level.

The IT management results may also need be presented via balanced scoreboard to leverage business agility objectively, both judge the result from short-term gain and long term growth perspective.

At the age of digitization, experiment on innovation, delivering result at first-time situation will be more frequent than ever, CIO with learning agility, can continue adopting agile methodology and run IT more effectively. Learning agility is even more critical for the executives at larger enterprises such as Fortune 500, as they are the one anchoring big ship towards the right direction timely, make influence on macro-economic climate, exemplify the positive culture for our society.  

CIOs, are you learning agile?

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