The logic of resistance occurs when an issue comes before an executive who has not been properly briefed so the person's first reaction is to view the issue as unimportant - "After all, if it were important, I would know about it". Executives will not place their credibility at risk by supporting something they do not know about or believe is unimportant. This combination leaves them with one course of action: resistance.
Is it possible to combat the logic of resistance without putting your credibility at stake? Of course. Tell them up front, speak in their language and give them an out if they don't like the idea (preferably one that is both face-saving and won't wreck other plans). Most of all, understand the people and issues you're dealing with.
Many less than successful CIOs invest time and effort in reading and researching technology futures and trends, but spend next to no time researching the industry and policy debates affecting their enterprise.
Align with the CEO's executive agenda. An important, but often underplayed, way of increasing the value of the CIO's credibility is the recognition that providing IT services effectively requires managing priorities, and that it's the executive agenda that ranks these priorities.
Aligning with the executive agenda involves focusing IS projects on clearly-defined business issues and opportunities, and supporting the senior executive's to-do list. Maintaining a separate "shadow" IS agenda is counterproductive. It weakens influence and reduces resource investments. It drains your credibility bank account.
Initiatives take time to implement, while visions and agendas form at a faster pace. Managing the tension between the two is one way to demonstrate alignment. And doing it transparently increases your standing.
In some cases, the executive agenda is unclear. This requires the CIO to be proactive and uncover the agenda by identifying common needs, which builds alignment on shared information. CIOs need to work with peers and customers to understand their top three business priorities and determine the things that IS has done well and not so well.
The more credible CIOs we spoke with understand that the appropriations and budgeting processes reward alignment with the executive agenda. CIOs that demonstrate this alignment beyond a superficial level gain the influence and resources needed to accomplish their mission, which builds their credibility.
IT plays an active role in gaining and losing the CIO credibility. As CIO, the terrible truth is that you can't bridge the gap between IT and the business on your own. Like it or not, the CIO and the IS organization are seen as one and the same. As one executive put it: "Business units are resigned to having IS not deliver on its commitments or meet its requirements. It's just IS."
Information technology was never the remedy for all situations - something our high performer CIOs pointed out very clearly. Sometimes good advice or restricting IT's role in a particular change, especially if questions of ownership and responsibility for the outcome may arise, is more valuable. Credibility comes from knowing when to walk away.
So CIOs don't have to be super-heroes, able to leap the chasm between business and IT, to be a roaring success. Respected CIOs have built their personal credibility by hard work and focus, to the point where this chasm all but closes up. Sure they can see over tall buildings, but only because they are carried on the shoulders of the IS professionals that they lead because these professionals view them as credible bosses
Andrew Rowsell-Jones is vice president and research director for Gartner's CIO Executive Programs
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