by June Drewry, Madeline Weiss

How CIOs Can Find Time to Think Strategically

Jun 27, 20123 mins
CIOIT Strategy

From blogs to 'beer lists,' there are tricks for carving out time to think about creating competitive advantage for your business

Your day is already jam-packed and long. Yet every pundit says you need to be more strategic. How do you find the time to think strategically about positioning your business to gain and sustain competitive advantage?

At a recent meeting of the Society for Information Management’s Advanced Practices Council (APC), successful CIOs shared their techniques for carving out time to think strategically.

Make It a Habit

Two APC members book time on their calendars–one for after business hours and the other for before business hours–for strategic thinking. Another makes sure he works offsite at least one day per week to avoid getting brought into tactical issues. One member uses his time in a scheduled spinning class to ask himself strategic questions such as, “What did I miss?”

Meet With Colleagues

Many CIOs sponsor IT summits to encourage strategic thinking among IT managers and, in some cases, all IT staff. Adrian Gardner, CIO of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, seeks out ideas from strategic thinkers and makes sure to include staff with less than two years of tenure in IT strategy sessions.

Steve Heilenman, CIO at Computer Aid, holds a weekly Innovation Friday event, where he invites a rotating cadre of “crazy thinkers and doers.” Several APC members hold future workshops for a mix of people representing management and staff at varying levels, making sure to invite those who’ve had good ideas in the past as well as some who haven’t participated before.

One CIO tells his direct reports that they must balance three types of work: manage today, deliver tomorrow, and innovate for tomorrow. Since the team naturally gravitates to the first two categories, he often reminds them of their responsibilities in the third.

Of course, technology can be used to engage colleagues, too. One APC member identifies the top five strategic priorities and blogs about them, with the whole IT organization as an audience. This approach generates a great deal of participation and gets the entire department engaged.

Other techniques: Schedule three meetings a week with colleagues outside IT to learn what they’re thinking. Take business leaders out to dinner regularly to get their ideas and learn their pain points. And keep a “beer list”–ideas for the future that are explored at the bar.

Seek Outside Perspectives

Attend association meetings with great speakers, establish networks of CIO peers, and cultivate relationships with what one CIO calls “deep-thinker organizations.” Although think tanks and universities fit this category, several APC members emphasize the value of connecting with venture-capital firms, too.

Simon Gauthier, CIO of the Inter-American Development Bank, engages a Georgetown University professor as the facilitator of his quarterly strategy meetings to ensure he gets outside perspectives. And the professor brings along a student, because students “believe everything is possible.”

Other techniques for gaining new perspectives include regular visits to external customers and serving on local nonprofit boards.

Putting It All Together

First, adopt the practices that fit your personality and lifestyle. If thinking alone doesn’t work for your extroverted personality, don’t fight it. Second, you can’t possibly have all the strategic answers. Enlist a wide network of insiders and outsiders to provide fresh insights–and to challenge your thinking. Third, find ways to push yourself out of your comfort zone.

Madeline Weiss is director of the Society for Information Management’s Advanced Practices Council (APC). June Drewry is former CIO of Chubb and a contributing adviser to the APC.