Does CIO Behavior Derail Intentions?

By Dr. Paul Hertz and Chris Dowse  |  Posted 05-19-2009

Does CIO Behavior Derail Intentions?

What do the following two statistics say about the state of it-business partnerships?

• Ninety-four percent of IT executives say they're expected to change the way business works.

• Seven in 10 say CIOs have less prestige than other C-level executives. (Source: CIO Insight's 2009 CIO Role study)

These results suggest that "partnership" is, in most cases, a gross overstatement of the IT-business relationship. Despite attempts by IT shops to demonstrate value and earn a seat at the table, the IT- business relationship remains more of an "us and them" than a "we."

What stands in the way of reshaping or forging new bonds across the IT boundary? It's really no different from the root of most conflicts: behavior.

The uniform makeup of typical IT leadership teams fosters an unconscious, self-protective response to challenging and changing internal business environments. The very characteristics that focus and enable success in shaping IT capability ("Do it right") and driving IT responsiveness ("Just do it, find a way") are often detrimental to building partnerships, for they morph into behavior that appears self-righteous and even self-serving--hardly an enticement to enter into a relationship. But let's back up and take a look at why this situation persists. Why don't IT leaders understand this and change their behavior?

As IT-business relationships evolved over the past decade, many organizations gave lip service to IT-business alignment, witnessed every conceivable variation on IT process program redesign and worked on multiple fronts of enterprise software adoption. What's clear after all these technological and process interventions are said and done, though, is that the "people dimension" of the relationship is the single most critical factor that determines success or failure in shifting the relationship. It's the Rosetta Stone of realizing IT benefits.

As an example, we recently completed an IT adoption engagement in which we recorded and analyzed more than 2 million customer service interactions between call center agents and their CRM software. What was interesting--but not surprising--is that only 1 percent of the company's CRM adoption gap could be directly attributed to the underlying technology. The remaining 99 percent of factors that constrained hundreds of millions of dollars in potential revenue and cost-saving opportunities were driven by "people issues."

People issues always trump technology and process capabilities, yet, despite repeated evidence, these issues are often addressed as an afterthought--or not at all.

While industry leaders opt to dismiss addressing people issues because savings are "soft," our experience suggests that, in actuality, IT leaders' avoidance of people issues is driven by more private and generally hidden motivations: uncertainty and fear of failure when it comes to navigating these choppy waters.

Unlike technological issues that can be dismissed or resolved as vendors and their tools evolve, failure to handle people issues is a personal shortcoming and has a lasting impact on personal credibility and relationships. Failure by omission is acceptable, but failure by commission can be fatal, so find a safe harbor, wait out the storm, and assess and fix the damage when it's over.

The Critical and Neglected Role of Behavior

The Critical and Neglected Role of Behavior

Although many organizations have reorganized players and roles, redistributed decision-making rights and developed "hot" technology skills, most organizations still have not dealt with the essence of the people equation: recognizing and effectively managing personality- driven behavior, or the "imprint," created by individuals and the IT organization on the IT-business partnership. These unique behavioral signatures go right to the core of IT's overall position and influence, the ability to listen to business needs, the posture and tone of communications, the design of IT customer processes--everything that explains the fundamental strengths and weaknesses of the IT organization in this relationship.

The impact of behavior has not been explicitly explored in IT management, but it merits further discussion. We have noticed dominant behavior profiles that exist in the IT management ranks. We have observed recurring patterns of behavior within IT organizations--and between IT and the business--that can-not be explained solely by hierarchy or company culture.

To prove our hypothesis, Neochange and The Paul Hertz Group have completed a breakthrough study into behavior patterns between IT's roles and layers and across the business. We have collected profiles of more than 500 IT executives, managers and their staffers using one of the survey components of The Paul Hertz Group's proprietary Print System.

Print is a relational model that associates behavior patterns (a.k.a. personality) with specific, underlying "Unconscious Motivators." These motivators reflect both what we seek and what we seek to avoid. They color our interpretations and emotions, and consequently drive our instinctive actions and reactions.

There are nine known core motivators, each having its own pattern (or spectrum) of behavioral expression, ranging from positive ("Best Self") to negative ("Shadow"). These motivators naturally occur in pairs, creating 72 distinct Print profiles, each with a major and minor motivator. So, depending on our Print, we exhibit behaviors in our interactions with others that may or may not resonate with their Print.

The key to successfully shaping or reshaping our relationships is to move from following the instinctive reflexes that get in our way to intentionally managing our behavior as Best Self. It's the only way to create and maintain productive relationships with others, especially those who think and act differently from ourselves.

There are some very valuable insights to be gained from the study. Many of the critical IT management challenges can be explained in terms of personality-driven behavior. However, we intend to focus on how the dominant Unconscious Motivators (and associated Triggers and Shadow and Best Self behaviors) of the two dominant profiles of IT management factor into the quality of the IT-business relationship.

The Trigger Tsunami: How Dark Is Your Shadow?

The Trigger Tsunami: How Dark Is Your Shadow?

In our study, two of the nine Unconscious Motivators emerged as dominant in the IT management landscape. The first, Unconscious Motivator No. 8, is a desire for strength, action and self-reliance. The second, Unconscious Motivator No. 1, is a need to do things right and continually strive for perfection. These motivational needs have a heavy impact on IT management behavior and define the nature of an IT organization's culture and its imprint on the IT-business relationship.

Given the demanding pace and competition in most business environments, it's no wonder that IT-business relationships are slow to change. Both dominant IT Unconscious Motivators are constantly assaulted by business dynamics that trigger a set of automatic, negative responses, or the Shadow side of personality.

Unconscious Motivator No. 1 is all about "doing it right" and continuously improving. That's a noble, lofty goal, but it's largely at odds with ever-changing business priorities and demands, uncertain or conflicting business strategies, and a rise in short-term business focus that rewards speed over quality. Although Unconscious Motivator No. 8 is more in sync with these conditions, this Unconscious Motivator is triggered when mired in legacy system quicksand that limits speed and capability or when other business units criticize or dictate the terms of IT responsiveness--or simply go around the IT shop to get what they want. (See chart at left).

When such triggers are increasing and powerful, we can expect IT leaders to be pushed into increasingly higher-intensity Shadow behavior over time. Unfortunately, since Shadow behavior begets Shadow responses, the cycle becomes self-sustaining and detrimental to an organization's performance. The instinctive IT leadership response (for both Unconscious Motivators No. 8 and No. 1) to being triggered is to become closed, inflexible and defensive--the opposite of what is needed to engender partnerships. And IT management is likely to direct Shadow behavior back into IT, potentially becoming aggressive and blaming of IT peers and resources.

Left unchecked, these conditions coalesce into the perfect storm of triggers, making it virtually impossible to avoid Shadow responses. Furthermore, the frequency, intensity and duration of these Shadow responses to triggers are proportional to the damage created in the IT shop's relationship with the rest of the world and within itself.

It doesn't have to be this way. By learning to recognize triggers and manage responses, we can stay in Best Self mode. (See chart on following page for a sample of the spectrum of behaviors for the two dominant IT Unconscious Motivators.)

The Path to 'Best Self' and a Stronger IT

The Path to 'Best Self' and a Stronger IT-Business Partnership

If our goal is to reshape the IT-business relationship into a partnership and break the Trigger-Shadow response cycle, where do we start? How can we get less Shadow and more Best Self behavior? Here are two suggestions.

Action No. 1: Learn and leverage your IT leadership's Unconscious Motivators and Prints.

"You can't manage what you don't measure," the saying goes. Start with self-awareness. Identify the dominant Unconscious Motivators and Print behaviors of your IT leaders, individually and collectively, and assess how their natural biases and benefits are imprinting on your IT environment and business relationships today. Which behaviors are showing up--Best Self or Shadow--and at what cost to your partnership potential? What do you need to protect; what do you need to reshape? What triggers are inherent or active in your business environment that adversely impact your unique set of Unconscious Motivators and how can you eliminate or mitigate them? What strategies can you use to manage your collective leadership to regain Best Self?

Caution: Although we identified the prevalent Unconscious Motivators driving IT organizations, each IT leadership team has its own behavioral identity, and every IT organization has a unique blend of internal challenges and friction points. To get the greatest return on investment, understand your Print baseline before you launch a strategy to strengthen your IT-business partnership and improve your internal IT dynamics.

Action No. 2: Reveal the IT adoption dynamics preventing IT benefits realization.

Given that every relationship has two players, each affecting the other, IT leadership teams may not always be able to shift the partnership dynamics solely by moving from Shadow to Best Self. An intervention that levels the playing field between IT and its potential business partners may be required to create shared responsibility for improving IT-driven business outcomes.

One technique for accelerating IT benefits realization involves exposure and delineation of organizational dynamics that preclude or erode effective adoption and interaction. Recognizing that the business value of unused software is effectively zero, framing the adoption landscape in a cohesive picture forces a convergence of perspectives on ultimate business value and planning across IT and the business, eliminating the blame game and putting skin in the game for both sides.

This intervention drives IT to focus on the human elements involved in software adoption and effective usage, while driving the business to remove structural or business process and policy impediments that complicate the receiving end.

This adoption intervention increases the IT organization's credibility and level of influence in the business, changing the nature of the conversation between IT leaders and their business peers, and creating an opening for a real partnership to develop.

Leadership Behavior is a Choice

IT leaders face escalating expectations and challenges by business peers as technology gets simpler and cheaper. Unfortunately, the adoption and effective use of technology--the human element in driving business results through IT--is difficult. Despite its complexity, however, there is rarely proactive investment or partnership between IT and the business in managing the behavioral shifts required to drive sustained adoption of technology, effective usage of the resulting information and the ultimate value contribution of IT to business results. Instead, internal business dynamics too frequently degenerate into reactive environments and vicious cycles of Shadow behavior arising from a clash of Unconscious Motivators and unchecked triggers.

The impacts of behavior on IT-business relationships and results are very real, and more predictable than most IT leaders realize. By understanding and tapping the Unconscious Motivators of your people, you can minimize triggers, improve the outcomes of the IT-business partnership, and ensure the continuous input and interest of the next generation of leaders.

Harnessing the "power" of personalities can make the difference between mediocrity and high performance in driving and enabling business innovation, growth and consistently positive customer experiences through IT. As an IT leader, you really can make your mark intentionally; it's a matter of choice.