Monday 25 July 2011

There are no silver bullets.

A friend recently forwarded me a blog about a Gartner survey that had interesting statements about the relationship of CIOs to other executives, specifically the CFO. Some bold statements were made. CIOs are more about solutioning and tech du jour as opposed to financial control. Many large companies demand solid financial and risk controls, so where IT doesn't contribute to the bottom line, it should absolutely be reined in.

I believe there is an obvious answer to why there is a trend to transfer power back to the finance folks. Some CIOs suck at execution. They don't even know that they suck; they believe they are doing a good job (the Dunning Kruger effect.) There is an old Turkish saying: The Fish Rots from the Head.

Why is it that some CIOs suck at execution? There are many factors I'm sure, but it really needs a discussion on what execution means in a business context. Execution is the ability to deliver in a timely fashion. Get 'er done b'ys. The term execution excellence has been bounced around. It adds more dynamics about the leadership and motivation skills at the head.

Getting back to why some CIOs cannot execute, perhaps some of these breaking points apply:

  • there is no clear strategy beyond "support the business" possibly coupled with a lack of understanding of the business and inability to set priorities

  • does not engage staff in the trenches (that is common for strict hierarchical organizations or disconnects like outsourcing)

  • introverted and lack people skills

  • weak leadership

  • cannot effectively communicate

  • cannot coordinate across business domains

  • does not play well with others (king of the hill)

  • gather upper IT management around them that isolate them from reality

  • do not trust their staff

If a CIO cannot deliver a good product and service, then they deserve to be marginalized under financial scrutiny.

So let's rephrase the negatives as positives. A CIO can nail execution if they:

  • have a clear strategy

  • understand the business needs and requirements

  • have the ability to effectively triage

  • are in tune with the issues coming from the front line staff

  • exude confidence and are personable

  • can rally all staff behind a vision or initiative

  • are good communicators

  • can coordinate across business domains

  • are team players and foster team play

  • support openness and transparency

  • delegate effectively

I'd recommend the latter for any executive job description.  The only thing missing for a CIO is IS/IT experience.  If the CIO is all that (and a bag of chips), then they're worthy of being on equal executive footing.