by Christopher C. Barron

How IT leaders communicate can affect success

Nov 15, 2016
CIOIT Leadership

Workers today are creating more content than ever, but are they effectively communicating?

guy driving talking on phone
Credit: Thinkstock

We have all done it. The phone rings, and we can see exactly who is calling, yet we let it go to voicemail. After an appropriate delay, we respond back to the caller via text.

I had this guy leave me a voice mail at work so I called him at home and then he e-mailed me to my BlackBerry and so I texted to his cell and then he e-mailed me to my home account and the whole thing just got out of control. –Mary, “He’s Just Not That Into You”

There are a whole lot of us working less than 100 feet from our colleagues yet opt to email them rather than just walking over for an in-person discussion. Working in a bubble, each of us tells ourselves that the written responses and messages we’ve sent are perfectly acceptable ways of interacting. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth.

Are new technologies helping or hurting workers?

Over the past five years, a number of new technologies have emerged to reinforce our self-imposed isolationism. These applications go far beyond the concept popularized by Facebook and Yahoo messaging. Have you heard of some them?

  • Lync (now Skype for Business)
  • Yammer
  • WhatsApp (especially outside the USA)
  • Salesforce Charter
  • Jabber

There are literally dozens of apps designed to facilitate written, or asynchronous, communications. In other words, they are designed to allow others to collaborate with you but without direct time constraints. The sheer number of options available to you and your company is impressive. But it is also a sign that too many of us are missing out on the simplest, most powerful opportunity that every real or potential interaction with another human being offers us. It is not the chance to deliver content – it is the chance to build and deepen an emotional connection.

As the great poet Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

The plethora of new collaboration systems are making it really easy to create, store, and share information. But they are not bringing us closer together as human beings.

Leaders at many companies have been waking up to the need to properly leverage technology to help foster collaboration. You might be surprised to know that one of the most effective strategies that has emerged recently actually removes technology from the equation. NPR pointed out last year that voicemail is being phased out in many companies. What value, exactly, does voicemail add in today’s corporate environment? Global firms like Coca Cola don’t believe it adds anything. If you work in their headquarters and want to talk with somebody, you’ll just have to walk to them and have a direct conversation. In hyper-competitive firm like Coke, you can trust that they will find ways to make workers more productive.

If I like you, I will promote you

Were you ever promoted by a boss who had no connection to, or affection for, you? It’s safe to say that very few of you ever got ahead without a good, upward-facing relationship. This concept goes even further. Try taking a look at the job descriptions for firms searching for CIOs here in 2016. You don’t see requirements like this one:

Looking for a top leader to sit in a corner office, read reports, answer emails, and attend scheduled meetings.”

No, you don’t see those functions listed anymore even though they describe an average work schedule for a CIO of the last decade. Instead you will see requirements that read more like:

Looking for a dynamic, hands-on leader who can gain a keen understanding for how our business runs and the role that technology can play in helping us be more profitable.”

In the past, a number of us would have seen the term “hands-on leader” and equated that description with working on the Help Desk. Today, nothing could be farther from the truth. What companies are really asking for is a CIO that is both willing and eager to see and be seen. Someone who is willing to go to where work is happening and engage with employees in the first person.

A successful CIO will, of course, be intelligent, strategic, dynamic, charismatic, and action oriented. But as Glen Stok pointed out this summer, success will come only if those traits are put to use up close and in-person.

Communicating is quite likely the prime skill that any leader can have at her disposal. Just remember that words can only convey, at best, about seven percent of what you want to say. Plan to work face-to-face, answer the phone when it rings, and enjoy the tremendous success that approach will bring.