With IT becoming center stage for the vast majority of companies, CIOs accordingly need to improve their leadership style as a dominant force within the C-suite.
New technology, hiring (and retaining) the next generation of IT professionals, and sustainability issues are forcing CIOs to become more responsive to organizational needs.
Companies that don’t adopt new IT practices in a timely, cost-effective way risk falling behind and losing market share over companies that do.
It is the responsibility of CIOs to become strong leaders who establish trust amongst their teams by being clear and decisive. Creating a clear strategy, which includes the most innovative IT and market trends, allows for CIOs to make informed decisions.
Once these decisions are made, CIOs can then initiate a consensus amongst teams and stakeholders, resulting in internal alignment.
“In general, it is the main purpose of the CIO to over-communicate. Ensuring all teams understand processes and technologies means better product success and cost savings,” explains Maziar Adl, co-founder and CTO of Gocious. “To cultivate better communication when deciding IT purchases, CIOs need to first ensure the IT is the correct fit for the company ahead of presenting.”
He explains that these decisions are made through understanding both business objectives and market trends.
Taking steps to consistently be innovative, while also making sure new technology is going to help business objectives come to fruition, will establish trust and understanding with key stakeholders on deciding enterprise IT purchases.
“The CIO must understand the initiatives and priorities to justify the right choices for IT purchases by aligning with those objectives,” Adl explains.
To help proactively articulate IT goals, CIOs can connect them with wider business goals to ensure buy-in from leadership.
“Positive initiatives are established when IT goals are directly related to the wider business plans,” he says. “This in turn improves the customer experience and increases value for the company.”
Through a consensus around IT choices, CIOs can establish the trust of major stakeholders by aligning IT priorities with organizational goals.
Pressure on CIOs to Deliver Digital Transformation
“Now more than ever, we’re seeing a pressing demand for CIOs to deliver digital transformation that enables business growth to energize the top line or optimize operations to eliminate cost and help the bottom line,” says Savio Lobo, CIO of Ensono.
This requires the CIO to have a deep understanding of the business and surface decisions that may influence these objectives.
Large-scale digital solutions and capabilities, however, often cannot be implemented simultaneously, especially when they require significant change in how customers and staff engage with people and processes.
This means ruthless prioritization decisions may need to be made that include what is moving forward at any given time and equally importantly, what is not.
“While executing a large initiative, there will also be people, process and technology choices to be made and these need to be made in a timely manner,” Lobo adds.
This may look unique for every organization but should include collaboration on the discovery and implementation and an open feedback loop for how systems and processes are working or not working in each stakeholder’s favor. “When CIOs are aligned with client and associated need, they are better positioned to facilitate timely decisions that benefit everyone,” he says.
CIOs Should Lean In (and Listen)
“The most important part of communication is listening,” says John Bambenek, principal threat hunter at Netenrich. “A CIO may decide on a purchase they think is valuable, but if they aren’t listening to stakeholders on what really matters, it ends up becoming shelfware.”
He says being a decisive leader involves more than just making decisions on a shorter timescale — it also means sometimes saying no to other goals or competing demands.
“Doing this effectively means being able to rally the appropriate stakeholders and get them to execute on that decision,” he explains. “On one hand, this means being reasonable in the cadence of decision and workload to avoid burnout, but on the other, challenging others to adapt to those decisions rapidly once buy-in as achieved.”
From Bambenek’s perspective, the biggest challenge for many CIOs is managing an environment in a work-from-home or hybrid setting.
“Many enterprises had to undergo radical culture shifts during the pandemic and some of those changes are here to stay,” he points out. “This means consciously working on ways to keep staff and stakeholders engaged even though they may be remote. More frequent check ins and one on ones can really help here.”
Bambenek says ultimately, getting anyone to adopt a goal requires showing them why accomplishing that goal is better for them.
“Understanding various groups and individuals can help CIOs be able to tell the story on why a given goal will help make their lives better,” he says.
CIOs Must Evolve Leadership Skills Over Time
Adl adds that CIOs must continue to hone their leadership style as the economy — and IT spending priorities — continue to evolve over time, making innovative, agile leadership a requirement for succeeding in the CIO position.
“Technology is key to keeping up with these rapid changes,” he says. “CIOs need to prioritize strategies that ensure constant alignment amongst different teams to drive efficiency.”
Lobo says to ensure that technology choices are not short sighted, CIOs should work with business leaders to develop and maintain a forward-looking roadmap.
“Looking out into the future often provides valuable insights into an individual IT purchase decision influencing the choice of technology, platform or vendor,” he says. “This long-term roadmap also provides a vehicle for wider engagement and collaboration across functions to enrich the IT purchase decisions made.”
CIOs must also take a thoughtful and balanced approach to articulating risks, which might result from eliminating IT spend so the rest of the executive team can make informed decisions.
Lastly, Lobo says CIOs should ensure they continuously focus on creatively examining what can be eliminated, deferred, or transformed to reduce costs within IT or elsewhere in the organization.
“With this clearly understood, IT goals and plans can then be created with traceability to the business goals,” he says.