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.

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