Talking to Both Ends of the Hierarchy
As CIOs have taken on more of the responsibility for shaping broad strategic goals, their ability to communicate their reasons for fostering or eschewing various technologies, and their ability to argue against unrealistic demands and expectations from end users and board members alike, have assumed growing importance.
Being able to communicate directly with those at the very top of the hierarchy is increasingly part of the job description. Again, according to the State of the CIO survey, some 35 percent of CIOs now report to the CEO (up by 7 percent on a year ago) and only 11 percent to the CFO (down 18 percent). The same percentage who report to the CEO report having their best working relationship with the CEO, while 31 percent say they work best with the CFO.
"I report to CEO level," says Panthers' Huckerby. "I have a great working relationship with the CFO and the CEO. It would be hard to rate the working relationships between them but I guess I have a better relationship with the CEO as the CFO has only been here for three months. The CFO has a good head for technology and we bounce well off each other. Over time I think our working relationship will be at least on par with the CEO. I certainly hope this happens as he is the guy with the money."
"I have a very strong relationship with all the executive group," says AAR's Holmes, who says he supports his formal communication efforts by "going out of the way" to have casual phone and face-to-face conversations with constituents to maintain a background understanding and a shared experience.
Austrade CIO Greg Field, who also works as the organization's CFO, has developed another strategy. At the time of writing, he was waiting for a new position to be filled within the IT Services Group: group manager, IT Business Support. That person's job will be to maintain and develop contact with the user community.
It is not that Field had got to the point of diagnosing an organizational weakness in this area, he says; it is more that he was acting from a view, supported by Gartner research, that there are ways to support the business and institutionalize those connections with the business. On the other hand, the new position will by no means obviate the need for Field to maintain high levels of communication with the user community.
"As a member of the executive [group] I report direct to the CEO, and we have fortnightly executive meetings, we have quarterly face-to-face meetings and because we're a dispersed organization we have communication happening by e-mail or phone calls or video conference as well," he says.
Asked whether he spends much time thinking about better ways to communicate, Field says not overtly. "What I spent my time thinking about is better ways to improve the service, and the communication actually follows from that."
One of the challenges some CIOs deal with is the fact that generally speaking they are technical experts and have spent most of their time keeping up to speed on technical issues.
CIOs have not focused on emotional intelligence (EI) and the skills needed to reach employees and colleagues with a persuasive and motivational edge, says Alex Ramsey, president LodeStar Universal. "Yet all leadership roles require the ability to communicate not just adequately but excellently. They are often playing a catch-up game.
"One solution is to find a coach who can advise, teach and help them develop skills as situations arise. This is one of the most effective solutions, because it involves multiple interactions and is not a one-shot solution," Ramsey says, which is perhaps not an unexpected approach since his company provides executive coaching.
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