A Sense of Where You Are

In the last issue, I focused on the struggles companies have faced recently in determining the future role of the CIO function. I strongly believe that in order to give the CIO role more legitimacy, a professional peer group needs to be formed.

However, this process will take time. In the interim, there are some important things current CIOs need to know–things that tend to endanger their existence if ignored. Here are some questions and pointers based on my research:

How decentralized is your IT organization? Centralized IT organizations are often marginalized and not seen as a real part of the business. There is an old saying: “Out of sight, out of mind.” Get your IT staff out there, interfacing with your business teams and clients. That will show you are interested in integration, not power and fiefdoms.

What is your relationship with other C-level executives? Too often, the answer I receive from CIOs is “very good.” Unfortunately, when I speak to their C-level counterparts, the view is much different.

What is a relationship, really? For one thing, it’s not just speaking and saying, “Hello,” and it’s not just playing golf or going out for a drink. It’s much more than that–it’s about bringing value. Bringing value means you are critical to the business, wanted and certainly needed. The first thing you need to do is understand how you are perceived by others–and truly understand what brings value to your company. This can often disappoint you, but, in many ways, it can help you understand if and why your job is at risk.

Do not control technology. You cannot control how technology is used in your company–you can only provide leadership as to the way it should be used. There is a big difference between control and influence; the latter is what brings the value. There are many definitions of leadership, but to me, the ability to influence the behavior of others tops the list. Such C-level executives do not lose their jobs. In fact, they are needed even more during a crisis.

Don’t wait to be asked to reduce costs. If you are asked, it’s already too late. If you’re in line with the business, you should be the first to suggest that IT cuts and increased efficiency are in order. If the executive management team needs to tell you, it usually means you’re not really part of the team.

Disenfranchise parts of the IT department. Yes, I mean this. Try to get other departments to manage IT issues. In other words, don’t manage everything; help them manage it. In the long run, business executives will better understand and value the difficulties of your job–and they will want you involved.

Know everything about the business. A CIO recently gave a presentation to my class. Much of the conversation related to the challenges of the business and the industry. The class was amazed by his understanding of the intricacies of the business–and how little he knew about the technology itself.

See yourself in the next position. Where in the organization should you go next? If this has not entered your mind, then it could be a problem. The potential is there, particularly to be a chief operating officer.

How can you get there? Are you spending enough time in the business? Have you thought about your successor? All good C-level executives should be thinking about the next step and strategizing about what they need to do in order to attain that next position. Remember, stagnation breeds failure.

Those are some of the key issues you need to consider when looking introspectively at your job–and your future. Even in tough times like these, a CIO can play a big role in determining his or her own destiny.

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