One key skill that truly great CIOs have learned is how to successfully navigate and integrate organizational differences to keep key stakeholders in agreement and heading in the same direction. In other words, they become chief integration officers. It’s a skill that can turn disorganized IT organizations into strategic weapons.
When IT functions began decades ago, they were somewhat self-contained and isolated. Today, the reverse is true. Now everyone needs IT, including customers, partners, suppliers, internal corporate functions and field operations.
Yet only the best CIOs have so far successfully led the charge for organizational integration. When CIOs let someone else lead this integration, it often spells disaster for them and their departments because it perpetuates the perception that business-IT alignment remains a problem.
Leading organizational integration and turning it into a personal and functional advantage isn’t hard, but it does require practice. To succeed, you must master these three key skills.
1. Don’t look at the company through an IT lens. Rather, look at IT through a business lens. Start by internalizing your company’s strategy, learning how key people are measured, and identifying the areas where the business is under the most competitive pressure. After you’ve gathered this important information, then you can think about the role of technology.
Success requires CIOs to make the transition from being merely good managers to being good leaders. Legendary author, consultant and educator Peter Drucker wrote that management is about doing things right, but leadership is about doing the right things. This insight is what makes the best CIOs better than the rest.
2. Avoid acronyms. You can spot the best CIOs by how they communicate. Every function and business has its acronyms, but the best CIOs don’t constantly use these secret codes, because they understand that it makes them look out of touch to people outside IT.
Business transformation and organizational integration require that CIOs become the corporate Rosetta Stone. This means using plain English–avoiding not only IT acronyms, but also every other acronym that surfaces during discussions about integrated solutions.
3. Take an interest in people. When it comes to organizational integration, the main issue usually isn’t technology, it’s people. When you’re trying to get stakeholders on same path, you must remember that people won’t care what you know until they know that you care.
Being able to successfully connect with people on a personal level–or at least have the wisdom to avoid making interactions with difficult people any more difficult–is critical for success. Having empathy and a positive emotional connection with key stakeholders is the social lubricant needed to be a great CIO. Below-average CIOs fail to give this skill the high priority it deserves.
Looked at another way, great CIOs are great consultants. They seek to understand business issues, provide objective advice and make personal connections by caring about people as individuals and empathizing with their situations.
Becoming your company’s chief integration officer requires practice, patience and persistence. But the result is greater success, less frustration and more fun–for you, your people and your company.
Jack Bergstrand is founder and CEO of Brand Velocity, a consultancy that focuses on business transformation. He is a former CIO and CFO at Coca-Cola and author of Reinvent Your Enterprise. Contact him at email@example.com.