Engage or Die: Five Lessons from a CIO Innovation Workshop

IT is a rough ride at sea. Voyage too far into attempting innovation and risk letting the day-to-day dealings fall apart, or run a tight ship on the everyday tasks and never spend the effort to find the innovation just over the horizon. Sailing that middle ground between Scylla and Charybdis is what every CIO must learn to do, and an article by Michael Krigsman picks out the key lessons from a recent workshop to teach what must be done to become that great seafaring captain. The five lessons are:

  1. Gain fluency with organizational strategic objectives.
  2. Beware of invisible IT commitments to break core, chronic conflict.
  3. Transform IT to deliver responsive, high-performance service.
  4. Use high-performance IT to drive broader organizational transformation.
  5. Understand the dynamics of strategic influence.

Regarding the first item, Krigsman says the CIO must be able to translate organizational business objectives into clear initiatives that IT can transform into doable projects. IT needs to be led to achieve the strategic goals of the company and not just the goals within the IT department. On the flip side, the company must also be made aware of all the obligations that IT really performs, which is the argument of the second lesson. IT is often responsible for all sorts of unmentioned tasks such as maintaining phone systems and disaster planning, and these tasks do add up in conjunction. The company cannot coordinate around these tasks if no one outside IT knows the tasks exist.

The third lesson asks CIOs to foster stronger relations between IT and senior leaders outside of IT, as well as have IT staff learn new skills that will streamline the flow of features into production while adhering to organizational goals. This in turn leads to the fourth lesson, on which Krigsman has to say:

The best CIOs deliver, and even anticipate, what executives on the business or administration side may need, which opens the door to participating in conversations where leadership establishes top agenda items for the organization. Developing trust relationships with non-technical executives is essential to opening lines of communication, collaboration, and knowledge sharing between CIO and the business. High value IT happens when the CIO possesses the ability to engage senior decision makers as an equal partner in the dialog that establishes organization-wide strategic goals and plans.

In the final lesson, Krigsman finds that it is vital to the CIO to command strategic influence if he is to drive broader transformation outside of IT. As in life, influence stems from relevance, credibility, relationships, and trust. Once influence is attained, the rest flows naturally.

The CIO’s journey is never a safe one, but when these five lessons are taken altogether as markers on the map, the voyage becomes a little less perilous. Never doubt that the shore is within reach.

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