At many businesses, CIOs are underdog executives, after being through numerous debates and years’ effort, they finally gain a seat at big table, what should they say when they get there? When should the voice of IT leaders be heard, and do CIOs think their voices get heard, what are those “should” & “should not” to do list?
The best CIO's are good sales people who see opportunities to save money, become more customer experience oriented, or come up with definitive competitive advantages, and with business mindset. Here are five focal points:
1. Be there, before Sitting there
When CIOs really get a seat at big table, surely they need be a business leader first, to speak the language of business at least. What does board care about: the business growth (both top and bottom line), the cost optimization (not only efficiency, but also effectiveness), the talent management, and governance, risk management discipline.
- Should: prepare well, contribute effectively. Before sitting at the table for presentation, CIOs may need do enough homework to recognize both formal and informal power brokers cross organizations, to present and promote potential projects portfolio, to be purpose driven such as improving business capability maturity, simply put, CIOs need get business buy-in before the formal presentation. Also make sure you have a handle on any fires and that operationally, the walls aren't crumbling or no one will listen to you even if you are sitting next to the CEO
- Should Not: when a CIO gets to the table, the last thing they want to do is to go and start talking IT at “geeky” way, in language of IT or through the lens of technology; Furthermore, while you might 'say very little' until really understanding the business, this should not stop you from asking. Good questions are golden,
If all goes well, each executive will voice support for her or him as she or he communicates the vision to CEO, CFO or board. This will position her or him as a business partner with technology expertise, and her or his opinions will be respected as such. The CIO would or should have been asked to contribute towards the business strategy as a member of the senior management team
2. Laser Focus on Business Value
CIO is perceived to be less of a champion of getting IT what it needs to optimally balance stability with innovative business value, and more of a fair 'player' at the business table.
IT need shift the mindset, when presenting , always focus on business value, it's about how to craft and verify capability-driven business strategy, it's about next practice for business governance, it's about business process optimization, and it's also about organizational structure retooling.
· Should: it's vital to ask the right questions to business partners such as sales/marketing, finance, HR, operational risks & opportunities and how IT can help mitigate against or contribute towards the pursuant of these, IT should express with the confidence on the true value it can bring in, help foresee the future of enterprise, and take initiative to streamline data-driven decision management scenario.
· Should Not: see today’s much more hyper-connected, interdependent business world as “black and white”, “nut or bolt” or “bit or byte”, should not treat IT project as technology challenge than solving business problems; also should not do innovation for innovation’s sake.
Many IT leaders believe they are still valued primarily for their technical contribution. Fewer than one in ten (9%) IT leaders believe that their teams are seen as strategic operators and 13% think they are seen as technical support – double the proportion of HR directors holding this view. While there is still work to do to ensure the majority of peers recognize IT’s strategic importance, its internal reputation is changing for the better, and changing faster than many IT directors realize.
3. Bring Both Good News and Bad News via KPIs
CIO should present business-driven KPIs interest executive peers at big table: prepare for both good news and bad news supported by data, you may speak good news promptly, if there's visualized dash board, not necessarily fancy, may also help. CIO need have optimistic attitude, even thing's not going so well, as positive attitude will fuel the passion & solution either at top level or casual meeting with staff, When releasing bad news, always prepare for some alternative solutions to invite diverse opinions and welcome collective wisdoms.
- Should: express effectively and provide the reasons why IT is over- or under- delivering, also invite business to co-track project, co-dance with IT at faster tempo, and walk through the project more collaboratively. IT should be transformed from back office utility function to front office innovation center, from wired infrastructure to digitization engine without wire, and CIO should transform self from IT manager only to also be perceived as an influential business leader, be an IT practitioner and business strategist at the same time.
- Should not: only focus on "on time, on budget" IT driven KPIs . Every IT project is business project, IT need express self via lens of business, not just defense. Being a translation channel is something every executive does, but by very volatile and complex nature of IT compared to other functions, IT should not ignore to discuss about technical details which matter, the leverage point is: how should you say it or what should not say.
CIOs who are comfortable with the seat may not only need deliver KPI driven business outcome, they may also need craft IT's elevator pitch timely in order to manage IT-enabled business capabilities and transform organization from Good to Great & Built to Last.
4. The Convergence of Business & IT Governance
IT departments have come a long way from being pure technical specialists to being strategic operators critical to achieving business growth and transformation. A seat at the boardroom table is now theirs for the taking. At board level, it's more about risk /compliance governance, requires a strategic and forward-looking perspective, dealing in uncertainty, identify and address key risks, also understand and convert the best of them to opportunity.
· Should: At governance table, it's all about how to optimize business processes, improve knowledge worker productivity, verify strategic plan effectiveness, and approach
GRC at holistic way. It means a lot for CIOs to make contribution as business leader, they should advise board about the intertwining relationship between risk management, compliance and security, sometimes, the more effective GRC management need breakdown the functional silos, soothe the political power plays, and build up a truly integrated, enterprise-wide GRC
· Should Not: talk about business continuity and data protection as pure IT matters, CIO need help create more of direct line between the board and field. Either business at stagnation point, or perhaps businesses are approaching a tipping point, where IT takes a new role that is based more in the mission and purpose of the company.
Especially at board room, not only you need understand your own business, you need know your industry, you even need have insight about cross-industrial trends, and economy as a whole, as now, the leaders cross-sector claim they are at information business, learning the best practice and next practice, learning about success story and failure case, the point is: the spirit comes from top, being the agile leader to shape the agile enterprise.
5. Talent Management: Leadership, Culture, Education
With ITs perceived purpose shifting from being a process enabler to being a people and thought connector (with information, with communication tools, with knowledge and learning), it seems the straddling of Industrial Age command & control/hierarchical structure and Information Age innovation and ingenuity/knowledge worker has come to a breaking point. The foot left in command and control must lift and weight must be shifted.
- Should: IT should lead the way to lifting one foot and shifting the organizational structure more into participative models that better support the quantum leap in speed we are experiencing, because, the purpose of business today is to amplify collective human capability and business capacity in order to compete more confidently, it's also about the right timing as the latest technology trend such as social/mobile/analytics/cloud continue blurring business boundary, expand business influence and expose enterprise into high risk surrounding.
- Should Not: Rush into the concept which haven’t been accepted by business fully, for example, some corporate cultures will be more in favor of things like EA and some more averse--meaning in some companies the CIO might create a fabulous Architecture but it won't be well received by the rest of the 'C's, suppose one could use words like 'capability maturity' and 'culture' to describe the kind of insight and awareness that must have developed within the business leadership for matters IT related for the transformative potential of IT to have the most positive effect.
No matter which table you sit, the scope of conversation maybe vary, but if the discussion focus is about business strategy/execution, then the philosophy and methodology have some similarity, you need be business leader with broad understanding & knowledge, but you can also make contribution to reach the depth of your own discipline, which means be a strategist, a coach and practitioner at the same time, even at big table, being learning agile should be one of the prerequisites for modern leaders, be both vocal and vital.