CIO Credibility: Still Skeptical?

By Marc J. Schiller  |  Posted 08-16-2011

CIO Careers: Measuring Your Credibility

What does a CIO need to be successful? We each have our own answers. Some may say that technical excellence and knowledge count most, others might place the emphasis on business awareness, relationships or just hard-core ambition. Certainly, all of these are necessary to reach a certain level in an organization. But to take the final step and be accepted as someone who is truly a member of the C-suite, you need one more thing: influence. This is the fourth in a series of articles on how to position yourself as an influential leader in your organization. The first installment was CIO Career Killer: Lack of Influence; the second was CIO Careers: Why IT Gets No Respect; the third was "Winning Over Business Users When You Don't Have a Dime."

As you work toward attaining the level influence with your business counterparts that you need (and deserve), you'll encounter what may be the greatest test of your commitment. This test will require a strong heart and a tough stomach, because your ego is likely going to take a bruising. Have faith, because the rewards of getting over this hurdle will pay long-term dividends.

I'm talking about the challenge of establishing credibility with your entire IT organization, from the top of the IT org chart to your network administrators and support technicians. While it may be obvious to some, this concept of organizational credibility bears clarifying. Before you can expect to have credibility and influence with the executive suite, you absolutely must have genuine and real credibility with your own people.

Your IT organization doesn't have to love you. They don't have to think you are the most brilliant leader in the world. What they must do, however, is believe is that you have a good plan. They need to believe that you know where you are going, and that you know how you are going to get there. They need to be able to articulate and support your basic vision and strategy for IT.

Some of you reading this are likely thinking: "What is he talking about? Of course I have credibility with my people. They all work for me. They are part of the IT organization." Well, here's a reality check: You may think you have credibility with your people, but the facts tell a very different story.

Over the course of the past 18 months, I asked 150 IT professionals (from networking managers to business analysts to senior directors) a set of questions with the purpose of uncovering whether or not their boss has real credibility with them. Here are highlights of what I found:

  • 70% of respondents could not articulate the IT strategy and vision
  • 54% didn't think there was an overall plan for IT
  • 60% felt that the IT leader was too caught up in politics
  • 57% said that the IT leader was focused on the wrong issues for the business

Ouch.

CIO Credibility: Still Skeptical?

Here's a simple test to further prove the point: Think about your own personal experiences before you became the IT leader or area head. What did you think about your boss's ideas and plans? I am not asking whether or not you liked your boss as a person. Maybe you liked the guy who promoted you into your current job. But, think back over your career: What did you really think about the ideas and plans of the various CIOs under whom you have worked? Did they enjoy real professional credibility with you by virtue of their vision and leadership?

We all have blind spots, especially when it comes to honestly seeing ourselves as others do. But it's incumbent on every IT leader to get to the truth. You have to know that you have real credibility with your people, not just corporate follow-the-leader.

I've been consulting to major corporations for more than 20 years. And I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times when a senior executive (IT or otherwise) really knew how his/her people felt about their ideas.

OK. Now comes the hard part: Are you willing to find out the truth about where your credibility is with your people? Are you open to seeing numbers like the ones above?

Have faith

Before you shy away from the challenge because you fear the results, I have some really good news: Although your results may look a little dismal at first, the situation can be quickly repaired. In nearly every case I have followed, the reason for initially low numbers was due to a communications shortfall rather than a genuine lack of belief in the CIO. Most IT leaders simply do not communicate with their people regularly. They don't share with their people the key information necessary to sustain their credibility. Once they do, things turn around really quickly.

To get started on your path to credibility, I suggest you begin with an anonymous survey of your team. To give you a jumpstart, below you'll find the list of 11 questions I used in my study--and continue to use today. (All questions are presented as declarative statements and answers should be provided using a scale from 0 - 9; 0 for no agreement and 9 for total agreement.)

  1. I understand my IT leader's strategy and vision for IT
  2. I can articulate my IT leader's strategy and vision for IT
  3. I know what the overall plan is for IT in our organization
  4. I know what the overall plan is for my area of IT
  5. The IT leader is too involved in details
  6. The IT leader is too focused on the big picture
  7. The IT leader is too political
  8. The IT leader focuses on the most important issues for IT and the company
  9. I don't know what the IT leader does most of the time
  10. The IT leader knows me personally
  11. The IT leader knows what's important to me

But wait, there's more. Don't ask only for a number rating; also leave room for general comments under each question. The comments are often the best part.

What's next?

In the next installment, I'll share the two things you can do to guarantee your credibility and win the support of your people. For now, be brave and go for the truth. You will be very happy that you did.

About the Author

Marc J. Schiller, author of "The 11 Secrets of Highly Influential IT Leaders," is a speaker, strategic facilitator, and advisor on the implementation of influential analytics. He splits his time between the front lines of client work and evangelizing to IT leaders and professionals about what it takes to achieve influence, respect and career success. Download a free excerpt of his book at http://11secretsforITleaders