Closing the Expectations Gap

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Guest Post by Louie Ehrlich, President Chevron Information Technology Company, and CIO, Chevron Corp.

Note: This is the second in a series, check out part 1 first - The Journey of a Business Strategist CIO

In my last post, I mentioned that the third step in moving towards the “business strategist” CIO is elevating the stakeholder relationship from one of service provider to one of a true business partner. After my stint as Chevron’s Global Marketing CIO and prior to obtaining the VP of Business Strategy position in Global Downstream, I was appointed as CIO of our Global Downstream business in 2004.

In my mind, I was ready to be the “business strategist” CIO as defined by the CIO Executive Council in its Future-State CIO® model. So, I immediately started visiting business leaders to try to help influence business strategy with what I thought was useful knowledge of the possibilities of IT that could be applied to benefit the business.  Frankly, not all the business stakeholders were ready for that.

Frankly, not all the business stakeholders were ready for that.

In hindsight, there was a gap between what I felt I and the IT function in Downstream were capable of doing and what the business expectations were - for good reason. Most were worried about the cost of IT. They were asking me questions about our IT environment that I couldn’t even answer. There were so many questions and long held beliefs by many business leaders about the fundamentals of IT that there really wasn’t a lot of time, or was it even appropriate for me to be acting like the business strategist CIO.

The hard lesson I learned as a CIO looking to advance my role and serve as a business strategist is that one must recognize that there is likely to be a capability/expectation gap, and that this gap doesn’t go away by itself. It’s something that we as CIOs have to close.

In my view, the expectation gap is influenced by three factors. The first factor is the state of the fundamentals of your IT environment. Is it cost effective? Is it reliable? If it isn’t, then by definition your role needs to be one of IT function leader. Without that foundation, nothing else is possible.

The second factor is the capabilities and business knowledge of the IT function. Do you have an IT employee base with the experience and ability to bring strategic business value to the company?  If not, then again - much of your focus should be as the IT function leader. The first and second factors are within our control.

The third factor is both within and outside our control as CIOs - the IT savvy of the business leadership of the company.  As CIOs, we don’t have a great deal to say about the selection of the company’s business leadership, but we are very much able to influence the capabilities, knowledge and perspectives of the business leaders around information and information technology - by delivering business value, communicating and building relationships.

How do you know if the business leaders are ready to join you on the journey to enhance the strategic contribution of the CIO? Ask them. Visit with them. Our management committee consists of the 50-60 senior-most leaders in our company worldwide. I spend as much time as possible visiting with each leader one-on-one.  It becomes fairly obvious within moments whether a particular business leader is ready for a business strategist CIO-based discussion. When I enter their office I ask a simple question like “What’s on your mind?” or “How are things going in your business segment?” If their response has something to do with their PDA or their PC, I’m pretty sure that they’re not quite ready and there’s and opportunity for me to address or grow their perspective.

Regardless, I accept that the responsibility is mine to address.

Louie Ehrlich, President, Chevron Information Technology Company, and CIO, Chevron Corp. Ehrlich is an advisory board member of the CIO Executive Council and one of the architects of the Council’s Future-State CIO Journey Framework.

cc licensed flickr photo shared by mat1photo

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  • Thank you for an informative blog post. You raised a common issue that I hear during conversations with CIOs: finding ways to engage the business in meaningful dialog that goes beyond technical matters and cuts more directly into strategy of the organization.

    Can you offer advice to CIOs who want to engage this way, but see resistance from their business counterparts. Is there anything a savvy CIO can do to salvage such a situation, or is finding a more enlightened organization really the best alternative?

  • A nice summary of the factors influencing the expectation gap. The gap has many dimensions but most significantly these must be addressed in order: IT’s understanding of business problems; the credibility of IT to first get its house in order; and top leadership support for a common agenda for the whole system of business that involves IT.

    Addressing them in this order will help IT: build relationships, establish priorities, meet commitments, build trust, establish partnerships, demonstrate leadership, gain top leadership support….and gain a seat at the executive table for strategy setting and the proper allocation of responsibility for changes in the system of business.

  • Ed Darnell

    As CIO you probably have access to a more complete view of your business than any other role. You probably also have one of the higest IQ, most analytical teams in your business.

    Are you using this to best effect?
    Have you developed the people skills and thirst for knowledge about your business in your team?

    Don’t worry about the top table. It will just happen!

    • Ed, With all due respect, I am not convinced that gaining a seat at the table, as we often hear it called, will “just happen.” Gaining true partnership with the business at a senior level requires strategy, planning, preparation, and execution as with any other long-term goal one is trying to achieve.

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  • Thanks for the comments and questions, Michael, Basil and Ed. I will make sure Louie considers them for his final CIO Journey post in the next week or two.


  • Louis, I often see a third gap in addition to what you describe as the capability and expectation gaps, and that’s the perception gap. There is almost always a lag time between closing the former and the latter. You’re addressing that already by spending so much time in dialogue with your business’s other leaders, but for many CIOs, effective communication is an after-thought — something to be tagged on at the end. IT leaders who come from a technology or engineering background - those who are highly analytical, logical and process-oriented - don’t always get that when it comes to this kind of credibility, perception is reality.

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