The CIO Role: One of Influence or Control?post by Chris Curran on July 29, 2009
I’d like to thank Michael Krigsman for inviting me to join him in the IT Failures town hall yesterday. It was great to interact with a few CIOs and other experts in IT management and leadership and discuss challenges facing the CIO in successfully delivering value. For those who missed it, the entire session was recorded.
The focus of our discussion was on the CIO’s role in project success or failure. (William Monroe regularly reminds on on Twitter, there is no such thing as an “IT project”). This is a rich topic and went in several different directions, including CIO tenure, how to recover as a CIO after a failure and how a project manager or team member could influence a non-responsive CIO. The angle I’d like to explore a little more is how much of the CIO’s job is to influence desired outcomes versus personally taking control of troubled (or all major) initiatives.
Two of the factors at play are:
- CIO Style, Skills and Personality
- Organization Size and Structure
CIO Style, Skills and Personality
In the town hall discussion and in my post on CIO Tenure, I discussed my theory (that’s all it is) as to whay some CIOs just don’t fit into their organizations. There can be a major disconnect if the CIO’s instinctive style doesn’t gel with the major work at hand.
Using a behavioral assessment like the Kolbe A Index (similar to the Myers Briggs), you can understand situations in which you and your co-workers will be most productive. When I took this assessment (I’m a 5 3 8 5), it confirmed that I am a multi-tasker and experimenter and don’t need more details beyond the basic facts. A CIO with my characteristics would likely lean more to a broader influence role than one that’s more hands-on.
Organization Size and Structure
Unfortunately, many IT organizations are huge. As a result, the CIOs are separated by several layers from the people and projects doing the real work. In these organizations, is it even possible for the CIO to take an active, hands-on role in leading a critical initiative? Furthermore, are there any expectations in the minds of the CIO’s peers and boss (CEO, COO) that he/she play such a hands-on role?
Based on the organizations with whom I have consulted, it seems like there is a size beyond which the CIO can no longer regularly be hands on. My gut says that this is for companies over the $5-7 billion revenue mark or so. For these organizations, the CIO must be a master of influence.
How a CIO Can Influence Project Success
Influence is more of an art than a science, so these practices may seem a bit fluffy. That said, I think there are some practical things that can be done toward achieving them.
- Reward Problem Solvers - One mentor of mine would enter the weekly management meeting for a $100M software overhaul program for a telecom carrier and offer $100 for the best issue.
- Increase Transparency - Long and generic status reports make me crazy. Those that highlight the top 3 management issues and summarize milestones and budgets are better. The data must be current and factual.
- Publicize Accountability - Project managers should have the skills and authority to make decisions and the accountability for success and failure. When PMs are accountable and everyone knows it, different and often better behaviors ensue.
- Emphasize Right Person for the Right Job - When an organization takes on a new vendor or a new technology, by definition it has little relevant skills. An influential CIO can emphasize that hiring new staff or a consultant to assist is not just acceptable, but necessary.
As I wrap up this post, I think I have convinced myself that the CIO role is one of influence for larger firms and a balance of influence and control for medium and small firms. I’d be interested in your take.
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