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Who's the Boss?

Who's the Boss?

CIOs need to learn to tailor messages to the decision-makers they're addressing.

Times are tough for CIOs. Along with dwindling IT budgets, some observers are claiming that their power and influence is on the wane as well. Having shelled out big bucks on technology just a few years ago - with little evidence of a direct payback - many companies are reeling, and the guys in charge of the technology are the most obvious scapegoats.

Hey, somebody's gotta take the blame, and it might as well be the IT guy.

CIOs, like the rest of us, are hoping that when IT spending improves; perhaps then they will regain their former lustre. But CIOs shouldn't wait passively until things start looking up. They can and should hone their abilities to win friends among and influence their executive colleagues. While the powers that be will eventually pull out their collective chequebooks again, there's no guarantee that the days when technology sold itself will ever return. As stewards of corporate IT, CIOs have to do a better job selling the merits of the technologies that they believe will benefit their organisations. And like all good salesmen from time immemorial, CIOs need to fit their messages to the audience.

That's why recent research on executive persuasion conducted by consulting company Miller-Williams sounds intriguing. In a two-and-a-half-year study of nearly 1700 executives, the company found that more than half of all presentations given to executives had little or no chance of striking a chord because they didn't match up with an individual executive's decision-making style. As Miller-Williams sees it, decision-making styles fall into one of five categories: charismatic, thinker, sceptic, follower and controller. The category can tell you what information an executive needs to make a decision and in what order he needs to get it. If your presentation isn't geared for the executive responsible for approving your project, there's a good chance your message will fall on deaf ears. For CIOs looking to get budgets and projects approved, sounding the wrong chord has serious implications. "There are probably many great IT projects that should have been approved, but they weren't, just because of the way CIOs pitched them," says Gary Williams, president and CEO of Miller-Williams.

Profiles in Personality

Here's a snapshot of each decision-making style.

Charismatic: These are big-idea kinds of people along the lines of Richard Branson, Lee Iacocca and Jack Welch. One of the ways to recognise that you're dealing with a charismatic type is that they tend to take control of meetings in search of the big concept. "If you have a presentation with 125 slides or a big report, a charismatic wants all that information condensed into one diagram," says Williams. Initially, a charismatic says yes a lot, but don't be fooled; they tend to delegate a lot of the details to others. A charismatic's initial affirmation often hits roadblocks when it comes to implementation. So be prepared to appease different styles of decision-makers down the road.

Thinker: These folks are very attentive, very process-oriented and want to know lots of step-by-step details. "If they see that slide 101 of your presentation doesn't jibe with slide 18, they'll tell you," says Williams. A talent for mathematics and a relentless focus on the numbers characterise thinkers, who often complement the decision-making style of charismatics. Well-known thinkers include Michael Dell, Alan Greenspan, and Bill Gates. Incidentally, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer happens to be a charismatic, which may explain why he and Gates are still working together after all these years.

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