by Maryfran Johnson

CIOs Need A Pep Talk From Stuart Smalley

Mar 25, 2010
Data Center

You’re good enough, you’re smart enough and doggone it, people like you! It may be easy to be defensive in IT, but CIOs’ self-defeating self-image affects how business sees the whole business unit.

Comedian Al Franken is now the freshman U.S. Senator from Minnesota, but there are still millions of Saturday Night Live fans who recall his Stuart Smalley character sitting in front of a mirror for his Daily Affirmation. (“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”)

In his gentle satire of self-help practices, Stuart was actually doing something I wish more CIOs would consider: He was changing the conversation with himself. He was shifting his story into a more positive mind-set.

I recently heard Johnson & Johnson CIO LaVerne Council make a similar point about the story IT tells and how it must change. “It’s so hard not to be defensive in IT,” this charismatic CIO told hundreds of fellow executives at Computerworld’s Premier 100 IT Leaders conference. (Computerworld is a sister publication of CIO.) She noted how negative and self-defeating IT’s self-image has become. “We should speak highly of what we do,” she said. “In changing how the business thinks of IT, we change how we think of ourselves.”

In the past four years, this change-oriented CIO has recharged and reunited a sprawling global IT staff of 4,000 at the $62 billion healthcare products giant. She can back up her story about a now-thriving IT-business collaboration with financial results that show that J&J’s IT organization will generate $350 million in business reinvestment dollars this year alone.

In nearly every industry, there is potential to change the IT story and drop that tired struggle for alignment (IT’s Scarlet A). The new story should be all about accelerating business by leveraging IT for competitive advantage.changes made for so copy would fit

To see one such story, look to Senior Editor Kim S. Nash’s piece about Nasdaq OMX and its CIO, Anna Ewing (“Pressure Cooker,” Page 29). The world’s biggest financial exchange may be just the place to watch the development of the future CIO: “An executive who can manage the relentless pressure to perfect IT operations,” as Nash writes, “and who also has a killer instinct for making money.”

As the exchange builds its global business, selling software and IT services to other financial organizations, Ewing has to make technology a source of real profits. She has to think like a CEO would about customers, costs and making money. She sees herself and her organization as full partners in growing Nasdaq OMX’s business units.

Earning a seat at the table? That’s the old story. For CIOs who are good enough, smart enough—and, doggone it, likeable, too—there’s a better story to tell.