How to Build Your Credibility and Increase Your Political Power

By managing what you are known for and purposefully communicating a specific and positive view of IT throughout the business, you will increase your political power and be much more effective—and happy—in your job.

I was recently in a board meeting and during one of the breaks, one of the less technology oriented CEOs on the board asked, "What is this issue around CIOs? Why do their jobs seem so hard and their expected tenure at a company so short?"

Two former CIOs in the room immediately responded.

"CEOs just don't get it!" said one. "They don't understand IT and they don't want to. They would never tolerate having such little understanding of finance or marketing, but when it comes to IT they just don't want to know."

"CIOs get weary from not being able to defend how they spend their money," said the other. "I always felt like I had a target on my back."

Though I've never been a CIO, I have been a general manger, a CEO, a CMO and I've run software development organizations. I have been in many executive planning and board of directors meetings where CIOs and their budgets are being discussed while the CIO is not there. I can tell you what they say about you behind your back: They don't understand what you're spending.

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The reason IT remains misunderstood and so many IT executives continue to be left out of business planning is because they lack credibility. As a CIO you have credibility challenges built right into your role that your peers in other parts of the business don't have to worry about. For starters, it's not just the executive team that doesn't understand IT: No one in the company outside of IT really gets what you do. Also, you spend a lot of money, which they all notice. There is always more demand for new things (without more funding) than IT can deliver. And the business forgets that IT projects continue to cost money long after they are finished.

CIOs are dealt a credibility hit just for waking up in the morning and going to work.

Credibility and political power go hand in hand. Credibility increases your political power and helps you get more done. Political power does not come from technology, it comes only from relationships. With strong relationships in place, your peers will trust your judgment and performance. They won't slow down your plans with stupid questions and endless debates that require you to defend what you are doing, why you are doing it and how much money you are spending.

CIOs can build their credibility and political power by focusing on two fundamental actions: managing what you are known for and building a communication plan for your stakeholders. Any CIO in any organization can put these ideas into practice.

Take Control of How Others Perceive You

Leaving coworkers' perceptions of you to chance is what puts you at risk of losing the support of the business. To take control of others' perceptions, you must first decide what you want to be known for. Do you want to be known as a technology guru or a business leader? Exceptional service or efficient implementation of new systems? Effective business partnerships? Good management of costs? Reliable IT services, creative solutions or outstanding support?

Once you are clear on this, find out how others actually view you. Ask your peers and other stakeholders across the business about their views of IT. Ask them how the IT department at your organization compares to IT organizations they've experienced at other companies. What do they think your IT organization does well? What frustrates them? What do they notice about the way you personally operate?

Consider the feedback and assess the gap. With your team, brainstorm specific behaviors that will consistently demonstrate and support what you want to be known for and build those into your plans and objectives. For example: If you want to be known for delivering outstanding support and service, make sure the names of IT support services are the same in all help desk interfaces for phone, website and e-mail. And don't call it a "trouble ticket" or a "ticket." Call it "get help with a problem."

If you want to be seen as a business partner, let the business people define the services, the names and the measures that are important. And then measure and report on them that way. For example, report on the performance of the most important cash registers in the most prominent retail locations during the day-after-Christmas sale (a relevant business measure), not store network availability for the month (an IT measure).

While you are identifying the positive behaviors that will reinforce what you are known for, don't forget to also identify the actions and decisions within your control that you can stop doing which create bad impressions of IT. For example, if you work for a bank, don't take the systems down for a maintenance upgrade on Monday morning. This might sound obvious, but this just happened at my bank. IT organizations make decisions like that all the time that shoot themselves in the foot.

Once you start behaving in a way that's consistent with what you want to be known for, your credibility will increase. People will know what to expect from you and your IT organization, and they will get it.

Build a Communication Plan for Your Stakeholders

Building a communication plan for your stakeholders, assigning resources to it and managing it as an official program will pay huge credibility dividends.

I learned this lesson when I was delivering outstanding results—better than my peers—yet got passed over for a raise because no one knew me and my business unit was not recognized as important. I learned quickly that good work doesn't stand on its own and that it's up to you to get your organization's efforts recognized.

Your communication plan begins with a list of all of your stakeholders which typically includes your boss, your peers, your boss's boss, your boss's peers, as well as your staff and external business partners. Make your own list. It's different in every organization, so you really need to think about it.

For each stakeholder on your list consider their world. What do they do? What is the scope of their work? What do they worry about? What do they need from you? What would you like them to know about you?

Then for each person or category, determine what the right communication is. For the CEO, whatever the communication is, it shouldn't be more than one page or a 10 minute meeting. The CFO will want cost benefit information. It's a good idea to have coffee with the CFO once a month. The line of business people want to know about their business. Don't give them lots of IT performance metrics. Give them a snapshot of what they most care about and buy them lunch.

Once you get your plan in place, treat it like any other plan. Assign the creation of specific reports to people and get your assistant to put meetings and mailing schedules in your calendar.

This combination of informal, personal discussions, brief e-mails and concise regular reports that contain meaningful information specific to each of your audiences will give your credibility a boost.

The Payoff

The sad truth is that good work doesn't stand on its own and it's even worse in IT because IT executives start from a credibility disadvantage. Unless you understand the political landscape around you and take the time to grow and maintain your credibility, you will be in for an even tougher time getting your job done.

CIOs who have political power are able to use it to get ahead of budget discussions and outsourcing plans. They can position themselves as partners in growing the business and, most importantly, spend their time building and running IT—not just defending it.

By managing what you are known for and purposefully communicating a specific and positive view of IT throughout the business, you will increase your political power and be much more effective—and happy—in your job.

Patty Azzarello became HP's youngest general manager at the age of 33. She ran a $1 billion software business at the age of 35 and was a CEO for the first time at 38. Azzarello has been working with CIOs for many years, coaching them on building their credibility. Today, she is the CEO of Azzarello Group, a career and leadership development organization. Azzarello Group delivers practical, experience-based tools to CIOs and other business leaders through products and services that include articles, online programs, executive coaching, public speaking and workshops.

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