The CIO’s guide to navigating office politics

The CIO role is rapidly changing. So too are the politics IT leaders encounter when collaborating on digital initiatives. Here’s how to keep IT on task and above the fray.

The CIO’s guide to navigating office politics
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The meeting went south almost as soon as it started. A company was moving from a service-driven to product-driven business model and adopting an agile approach at the same time. Al Sporer, executive vice president and general manager for digital consultancy Anexinet, was there to facilitate. Less than five minutes in, a longtime general manager from the business looked across the table at the CIO. “I don’t know why I have to be here,” she said. “I’ve told you for over a year that we need a new digital customer interface. You can’t get anything done!” Furious, the CIO got up and walked out of the room.

Sporer and his team continued the meeting, although they knew that with the CIO absent, little progress would be made. When Sporer talked to the CIO afterward, “He was still so angry he could barely speak.” He’d heard that same accusation from that same manager many times before. For six months, the CIO and his team had been asking for requirements so that they could start work. “The business leader always turned the conversation around and said, ‘You guys are the tech experts, you should know what we need!’ It had turned into a standoff,” Sporer says.

With some calmer dialogue, reaching agreement might not have been that difficult. The business user just wanted IT to update the front end and create a modern customer interface, but because this was a very outdated system, that wasn’t possible. “You couldn’t do a forklift upgrade,” Sporer says. “So IT needed requirements around what functions had to move over and when.  The business manager needed a technology expert to guide her.” Instead, communications had completely broken down. “Neither side was willing to actually say what they thought; they just agitated each other,” Sporer says.

They had both encountered what Gartner distinguished vice president Tina Nunno calls a “political landmine.”

“Politics is the real reason we frequently cannot get things done in change management,” says Nunno, who is also author of The Wolf in CIO’s Clothing: A Machiavellian Strategy for Successful IT Leadership. “They’re the things we don’t often feel comfortable talking about, sometimes we can’t even identify them.” And yet, she says, when someone steps on these landmines, “our reactions are not only physical, they’re visceral. Sometimes your brain is telling you to be rational and you can’t.”

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