Stephen Covey wrote a book a few years ago called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People which hit the best seller lists with a bullet. Question: could we apply Covey's insights to the Highly Effective CIO? Answer: do Aussie prime ministers eat out of Bill Gates' hand!? Taking it from the top, Covey advises us to . . .
Be proactive. Taking the initiative is what this habit's all about. Everyone is aware of the year 2000 date problem, and people are worried that they won't be ready in time or that their other projects have to go on the back-burner. Yet it's been at least four or five years since ComputerWorld first raised the issue in Australia. The organisations that appraised the situation early on and acted fast - the proactive ones, that is - will have many fewer problems than those which stalled. Likewise I still hear some IT managers worry about the "disconnect" between IS and the CEO. They complain that IT issues are just not being understood. Instead of complaining, they should follow Covey and expand their "circle of influence", to change what they can change. Analyse the CEO's concerns and get there first with recommendations couched in terms of those concerns.
Begin with the end in mind. Where CIOs are concerned, this translates to gaining perspective, fostering an ability to visualise where IT could take the organisation. It means thinking how to define success in your role as CIO of ABC Inc: what achievement(s) would you like to be able to put on your CV after you leave? We're all familiar with the statement that 'Management is doing things right, leadership is doing the right things'. That means moving on from efficiency and control to true productivity, which is promoting organisational effectiveness.
Put first things first. Covey divides activities into four quadrants, according to the various combinations of Important, Non-Important, Urgent, and Non-urgent. The promised land is Quadrant 2, where you take time to do things that are important though not urgent. For CIOs this might include taking time out to identify opportunities that might be possible via IT. It means improving your delegation skills. It definitely means building relationships - and doing lunch with customers, peers, and suppliers!Think win-win. I believe this habit is most applicable to dealing with suppliers, especially outsourcers. Avoid adversarial approaches by agreeing on the desired results, the guidelines (or principles) that will govern the work, the resources to be used, accountability (performance standards), and the consequences that will follow an evaluation of the work. It may sound like pie in the sky - it's the hardest of Covey's habits to adopt - yet if you can make it work then the rewards are great.
Seek first to understand, then to be understood. A simple habit, but worth its weight in gold, because it is the basis of effective communication. Apply it with customers, or users of information systems, to discover their frames of reference. It's the only way to gain accurate information on what is most important to them. Time taken here means systems that people actually use, systems that customers buy into, and products that are designed right.
"Diagnose before you prescribe," says Covey. Right on!Synergise. Who hates the word synergy? I do. It's usually used by companies to validate their reasons for merging with another company. But as Covey uses it, it means taking advantages of the differences between people - even welcoming them - in order to develop creative new ideas that would not otherwise arise.
For CIOs, it perhaps means not prematurely closing off ideas that seem at first to be no good.
Sharpen the saw. That's what you're doing now! Reading publications like CIO and ComputerWorld, or attending conferences like CIO Informat, are learning experiences. You learn what peers are doing and thinking and, in Covey's terms, that's a very important part of self-renewal. So is taking time off to think.
And so is donating your time to mentor a younger person.
CIOs who wish to be highly effective could do worse than take Stephen Covey's ideas to heart!Steve Ireland is publisher of ComputerWorld newspaper
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