Tomorrow's CIO: The Secret Is the 'Small Stuff'

Now is indeed the time to "sweat the small stuff," as it is the catalyst and enabler for change in our technology-obsessed world.

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Credit: iStockphoto

Ah, February in Connecticut. The pervasive chill. Snow has turned from charming and beautiful to the bane of existence. Once again, the groundhog disobeyed my very clear command, yet our daylight hours are starting to last longer. We insist we are on the cusp of spring while, for those of us in the world of education, we are for certain entering budget season. For me it's a two-fer: managing the production of a comprehensive yet efficient IT departmental and campus budget as a CIO, while as an engaged parent of two youngsters I'm also spending nights and weekends pouring through our local town and public school budgets as well.

In our small town, where we are currently raising two future leadership rock stars (no pressure, right?), I tend to spend valuable time on the annual education budget-funding process. And each year, there are attempted cuts, both obvious and latent, and oftentimes realized.

This year it's a youth organization that pumps out amazing musicals on a shoestring budget. These town kids spend months tirelessly raising money to fund their remaining budget goals requesting in total less than .03 percent of one percent of our town's budget. Roughly the same amount that is overspent on office supplies and shipping fees from one single town office. Beating the pavement for cash is not entirely in vain for these kids because throughout the process they are building confidence, instilling initiative, and honing their communication skills for the stage and, most importantly, the real business world. Their deliverable might very well be "the arts," but their lifelong takeaway is communication.

So why is this important? Why should we start instilling and supporting arts and communication in children at such a young age?

According to recent research, communication is the most important skill kids need to succeed in life. And how does one effectively hone their communication skills? Through practice. Communication breeds and thrives in debate, in speech, and in arts.

In my estimation, communication is also the number one skill for tomorrow's CIO. And tomorrow's (insert every leader here). Why? Your base knowledge and expertise is always present. Possessing technology skill and acumen is expected. The ability to strategize and focus on efficiency and positive impact on the business's bottom line are skills that are also baseline requirements today. It's in the execution. To execute, to possess effective communication skills — there is the catalyst. Vision remains in the formulation stage without communication. Projects spin in conception without communication. Business will perch on the edge of innovation, never fully reaching the goal, without communication. We live in an age of transparency where smoke and mirrors are not tolerated. If you want something done, you'd best be able to explain why, how and when, and garner excitement about every step along the way.

Technology is the glue that binds our society together. Tasks are easier. Purchases are smoother. Products are available faster. Impact is assessed by driving and instilling improvement with intelligent and informative communication throughout the entire process. Talking about process all day is not innovative nor useful. Talking is the projection of one's own voice. Communicating is empowering collaboration and interactivity of information. Communication matters, and it differentiates between a flaccid software implementation where users will warily use five percent of a new solution and a fully-embraced, process-enhancing solution upgrade where improvement is measurable and 90 percent of the solution is used.

One of my favorite phrases in life has always been, "don't sweat the small stuff." The small stuff is currently changing in leadership and business. Now is the very time to indeed sweat the small stuff, as it is the catalyst and enabler for change in our technology-obsessed world. It's time to identify new fat to trim in budgets, from corporations to the smallest of public school systems. The small stuff of yesterday needs funding today to progress.

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