Like Iago whispering poisonous advice in the king's ear, outsiders may be exerting undue influence over your company's CEO. But smart CIOs can avoid drama tomorrow by preventing external meddlers from disrupting the business today . . .
The CIO of a leading Australian manufacturing company was baffled and frustrated. Suddenly, the chairman of the board was positively bursting with ideas about how IT should be run and what new systems ought to be implemented. He seemed in no mood to countenance any opposition and refused to give any weight to contradictory arguments. To make matters worse, no one could figure out where the ideas had come from.
Deeply concerned, the CIO contacted his colleagues at the sister company where his chairman served double duty as CEO, all of whom vigorously denied planting any ideas in the chairman/CEO's head. A bit of detective work served up the answer to the mystery. "It turned out he had this pile of advisers 'under the rock' who he used to have dinner with and socialize with and they were very influential in him forming ideas," the (now former) CIO says.
Currently in academia, the ex-CIO says at a time when many CIOs are still neither properly respected nor given a "place at the table" by the business, such external influencers of business leaders and members of the board can do a great deal of damage to the CIO's strategy and vision. "The CEO and other senior executives all have influential advisers and they're all under the rock so you don't know who they are. I think it's up to CIOs to listen at keyholes or whatever it takes to find out who these other influential advisers are and profile them," he says.
Vendors, the media, authors, academics, analysts, associations, celebrities, civic and governmental leaders, gurus, public relations practitioners, bloggers, politicians, financiers, researchers and now what global public relations agency Burson-Marsteller calls the "tech-fluentials - a new group of opinion leaders comprising powerful influencers who use high-end technologies to accelerate word-of-mouth marketing and turn their product recommendations into sales" - can all be powerful influencers of CEOs, executives and members of boards. In addition, the inner circle of a good CEO or senior executive will also contain an external, non-political, CEO coach. These influencers can hold sway behind the scenes and, particularly in organizations where the CIO does not have a seat at the executive table, that sway has the potential to seriously harm the CIO's agenda.
The trick, if you can, is to work with the influencers to ensure their influence is beneficial, or to generate a groundswell of opinion to your side if it is not.
For instance, Marjan Bolmeijer, CEO of US board and CEO development company Change Leaders, remembers the time a client - a new CEO and a true believer in IT's ability to cure all of the corporation's ailments - was showing signs of letting his enthusiasm for IT get out of hand. Within days of starting with his new company he had begun letting all and sundry know of his determination to install a brand new IT division.
"This guy loved IT," Bolmeijer says, "and nobody dared saying 'no' to him in meetings. The culture just wasn't that progressive. So, the decision [regarding a new IT division] was about to be approved in a board meeting.
"When I heard about this, I went to each member of the board and asked them their opinion, one on one. None of them wanted this new division, even the CIO. It was the right thing to do but at the wrong time. Through one-on-one conversations with the board and executive team, and later through shared agreements in their senior management meetings, this group developed the cultural norm to voice contradictory opinions among each other," she says.
"The expenses we managed to prevent from being spent amounted to $15 million. Not a bad ROI for a CEO coaching contract."
To counter any negative influence from CEO coaches - and by extension other influencers - CIOs must learn how such people influence the CEO, what their process is and what the results are of their methods.
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