To Guy Hadari, CIO of Biogen, the most important, but often overlooked skill for a CIO is management.
“Most people consider the CIO to be a technology person, and they want to put them in a technology box, but technology should be only 20% of a CIO’s job,” says Hadari, who has been leading IT for the $15 billion biotech business since March 2021. “CIOs need to understand infrastructure, security, and business applications at a high level, but it is more important that they know how to manage a business function. A CIO with a half billion-dollar budget is essentially the CEO of a very complex business.”
As Hadari sees it, “The challenge is that most up-and-coming IT professionals are trained to be technology implementers and innovators, and so are ill equipped for the management aspects of the job,” something that he experienced personally. In his first few years as CIO, Hadari’s comfort zone was data, analytics, and statistics, and that was the lens he used to lead IT. “Although my early years focused on the application of technology to business problems, it was during my years in management roles with IBM that I started to see that technology depth was keeping me from being a good manager.”
With several CIO stints now under his belt, Hadari certainly learned how to manage, and today he places a premium on the management skills of his senior leadership team. Here are the essential management skills he looks for in IT leaders today.
1. The ability to think strategically — and focus on details
“I expect IT leaders to know their business, the details, the numbers, and also be able to step back and take a bigger look,” he says.
2. The savvy to run IT like a business
Hadari looks for managers who understand that good management is a steady cadence of activities you need to conduct in order to run IT like a business. “The most challenging aspect of management is the repetitiveness,” he says. “It can be very challenging to create something with continuity and sustainability.” But that is what Hadari is looking for: someone who has created an organization that is so well managed that they can walk away without causing immediate disruption.
At Biogen, Hadari uses a management framework that functions as the drum beat of the organization. The framework, which every leader on the IT team uses, contains a regular schedule of IT town halls, meetings, and functional reviews. “The framework can seem ‘boring,’ but it keeps the business running,” Hadari says. “And it gives us credibility when we talk to the business, because we know all of the details. Is it sexy and transformative? No, it is management 101, but solid operational management processes have been critical to the last three transformations I have been privileged to lead.”
3. A knack for asking the right questions — before providing solutions
“Asking questions is difficult. It is easier to start with answers or just deliver a solution,” says Hadari, who considers asking questions before proposing solutions to be a state of mind. “You have to want to get to the heart of the problem by digging into the specifics,” he says.
For example, say that a sales manager asks for a new CRM tool to better drive sales. By asking the right questions, the IT leader learns that the sales people are losing time because it takes them an hour to enter expenses. The solution is not CRM; it’s a better process for expense management. “‘If we reduce expense management time by 30 minutes, will that help to drive sales?’ is a better question than, ‘What kind of CRM tool do you want?’” Hadari says.
4. The instinct to advance and protect your people
Have the courage to protect and develop the people who work for you. “Most companies still consider IT to be a necessary evil and a cost burden,” says Hadari. “When you sit in an organization where one measure of success is that nobody is yelling at you, you don’t always feel great about your work. That’s why it is so critical for IT leaders to advocate for their people and drive their advancement. Leaders who drive the advancement of others naturally gather great people around them.”
5. The ability to transform from data
Hadari encourages his team to use data, surveys, and conversations to understand the perceptions of IT, and the problems that create those perceptions. He finds that comparing how IT rates itself to how the business rates IT reveals a great deal about where IT needs to focus. “Collecting all of that information is not an easy process, but it is the beginning of change,” says Hadari. “It means that we can accept our challenges, bring them out into the open, and do something about them.”
At Biogen, Hadari’s extended leadership team, which is one level below his senior IT leadership team, owns the strategy and plan for IT improvement. “They build it, execute on it, and own it,” he says. “Once they have a plan, they can have constructive conversations with their business partners and hold their heads high.”
6. A willingness to grow
Coming full circle, Hadari looks for IT leaders who do not have a comfort zone bias. “If you are an expert in commercial IT, then commercial IT becomes your focus and holds you back from becoming a multi-disciplined IT leader,” he says. “The CIO’s comfort zone should be building and managing a high-performing IT organization.”