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Good CIOs, Bad Choices

Good CIOs, Bad Choices

Smart IT leaders know the key to better decision making is to take a hard look in the mirror and identify what they need to work on to build credibility with the business

After only three years, Tom, a publishing industry CIO, got the boot. It's amazing that an IT leader with such intelligence and years of experience could mess up so badly in such a short time.

Tom's tenure started well: He inherited an IT organization with good relationships and a track record of delivery. However, the department lacked a coherent strategy and a cost structure attuned to the fiscal pressures facing the organization.

Good CIOs make bad choices all the time. These decisions usually aren't fatal, but they are painful, and it may take the CIO a while to recover

Faced with the difficulties of setting strategy in a decentralized business and bowing to his introverted nature, Tom decided that some strategy was better than none and initiated an effort that largely excluded the business. He launched an SOA initiative and a service-based organizational model — changes that were out of line with the maturity of the organization and increased the high IT cost structure.

Good CIOs make bad choices all the time. These decisions usually aren't fatal, but they are painful, and it may take the CIO a while to recover. To help my clients make better choices, I have developed a framework called the CIO credibility cycle.

The credibility cycle helps CIOs foster organizational excellence and strong relationships across the enterprise. It starts with building an IT organization capable of developing good relations with the business. This is achieved by delivering projects on time and on budget in order to realize their business value. Meeting this objective will motivate both business and IT to forge a shared IT vision, strategy and tactical objectives. This, in turn, leads to the building of quality solutions that strengthen the overall organization and, completing the cycle, continues strengthening relationships.

By understanding the credibility cycle and using it to diagnose IS capabilities, CIOs can identify what they need to work on and in what order to build their credibility with the business. The cycle defines what experienced CIOs already know: that to inspire trust, one must accurately assess organizational capabilities and work them in the right order.

In Tom's case, IT had strong business partner relationships and delivery credibility and was starting to be recognized as a lever to create business value. His focus should have been to facilitate cross-divisional discussions regarding priorities, synergies, and cost savings with the goal of gaining shared commitment and the allocation of scarce resources. Unfortunately, Tom's decisions to set strategy alone and focus on SOA and organizational engineering created a cycle of incredulity with senior management ("I can't believe he's doing that!") that led to his departure.

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