Monday, January 12, 2015

Don’t just survive, thrive in the changing world !

Last week when I wrote “CIO will survive …” I received lots of thank you notes and endorsements from CIOs and others, some with vested interests; I believe that this is the best time to be a CIO; technology has become pervasive, understanding of impact universal, democratization of information a gaining trend, and the economy finally looking up. The CIO will have to really do something dramatically stupid or put his/her head under the ground refusing to take any risk or decisions to fail disastrously. And then some had doubts too.

Enterprise dynamics have changed with upsurge in technology awareness that has had every CXO wanting a piece of the pie. It all started with the CFO wanting reports/analytics, then marketing attempting to push ahead in the social media and digital space, to supply chain, operations, sales, and even human resources wanting some attachment and visibility to the new world full of disruptive opportunities where success is not the only measure. Fail fast and fail often echoed in many discussions and meeting rooms.

Pressure also comes from within for few who want to keep their teams under their watch with clipped wings should they want to fly higher than their own flight. There is the aspiring and ready next in line: CISO, Head Applications, Head Infrastructure, Head Analytics, Head Innovation, and Head Customer Service, all wanting to displace the CIO from the mantle. What should the CIO do to stay ahead of this pack of technology professionals while running the race with peer CXOs without falling down and getting trampled ?

Lot has been said and written about behaviors, skills, expertise, knowledge, and temperament of the ideal CIO; in a perfect world s/he can balance business and technology while knowing as much about the domain as Sales & Marketing, Supply Chain, Finance & Accounts, Human Resources, and Customers as each function heads. At the same time s/he is expected to know about every new trend or technology that will disrupt the world today, tomorrow and a year down the line. Off course s/he should be a fluent communicator to explain all this in simple language.

How does the CIO thrive in such extreme conditions ? There is no magic potion, formula or wand, no Holy Grail or acquirable super power; no short cuts or fast track formulas. It is not a destination but a journey with milestones to achieve as you keep moving; a step by step process for most with concerted effort to stay relevant and ahead in the game. Many would want to create New Year resolutions; my recommendation after falling and getting up many times over in the last two decades is to get started and not link it to the calendar.

Here’s my view of the needs for not just survival but to thrive in an uncertain world:

1.      Hire your direct reports or for that matter others who are better than you and who will challenge you; given them enough freedom to move faster than you and help them find success internally. Coach them and learn from them; they will make up for skills that you don’t have and help you win.
2.      Seek feedback from your peers (internal CXO customers and externally other CIOs) who can amplify your success or make it look like a stupid expedition to nowhere. Don’t just have a transactional relationship with them; have coffee or drinks with them to understand their strengths and fears.
3.      Communicate success as well as qualified opinions about technology enabled disruptions which may impact your industry or company; communicate often and don’t wait for downtime, virus outbreaks, or plain simple bad news. Good news creates a favorable perception and energy
4.      Network across layers internally and externally; the more you network the better you are likely to get at connecting with people and that will help you create visibility for yourselves. Always respond to requests for meeting, information or business even if the answer is no.
5.      Build a brand, stand for something in the industry; don’t get lost in the crowd where no one knows you or wants to connect with you beyond the immediate business. Respect has to be earned for it to be sustainable; what comes with the position or title goes away with the position.

I could add a few more and I am sure so can you based on your frame of reference. This is just a beginning to a better tomorrow.