By managing their relationships with CEOs, many CIOs can move toward a business leadership role.
Most CEOs view their CIOs as effective operational leaders. Unfortunately an operational leader is not the same as a full business leader. What's worse is that the CIO's success as a business leader depends on the CEO-CIO relationship.
CIOs need to understand the type of relationship they are currently in with their CEO and what they need to do to reach the right - and hopefully better - relationship type.
Almost all CEOs recognize that IT can add value. The problem is that IT is just one of the many levers they pull. So when asked for the things they worry most about, few CEOs mention IT at all. Instead, they'll likely talk about "revenue growth" as their number one priority. Ask their CIOs what are the most important things for their enterprise and you'll get a different answer. Integrity, usually in the shape of enterprise security, cost and privacy, is the CIO's concern. Both the CEO and CIO are right about their specific priorities; but let's face it, there's a chasm between those two views.
The good news is that this disconnect can be bridged.
CEOs are looking for the right relationship for their enterprise. Although each CEO-CIO relationship is unique, four relationship types describe the range of relationship possibilities.
The CIOs viewed as business leaders achieve a partnering or trusted ally relationship with their CEO. The trusted ally relationship is rare. Here, the CEO encourages the CIO to take on significant business roles. CIOs who reach this position in information-intensive industries, such as financial services, sometimes assume the role of COO.
A step down from this are partnering CIOs. These CIOs have established a strong foundation of IS delivery and have begun to engage in business initiatives, but to a lesser degree than trusted allies. In the partnering relationship, the CIO occasionally takes on roles outside IS or leads non-IT initiatives.
The most common type of relationship is transactional. In this relationship, IS is delivering services, with the CIO engaging the CEO and other CXOs mostly on IT issues.
The lowest-performing relationship - the service-provider role - is at risk. Here, the CIO's focus is on fixing operational performance and cost issues. Most CIO relationships don't start here, but many end if they reach this stage.
Using this framework, it's possible to start doing something about your relationship. CIOs can enhance the potential for being a trusted ally by demonstrating deeper business knowledge, using IS to support non-IT business objectives, spending time with senior executives to understand the context and language of the executive team and being solution-focused.
In short, a CIO must take on the challenge of aspiring to true business leadership: being comfortable operating outside their area of prescription, in circumstances of high ambiguity, where there is considerable area for discretion. This is not the comfortable home turf for many CIOs but it is possible to make the transition.
Build a plan with tangible goals. To decide on an action plan for building your relationship with your CEO, understand your current position in the eyes of your CEO, his or her ambitions for the CIO role, and your ambitions.
Complement this understanding with a CEO dialogue. Find out where the CEO believes you are now, and don't be surprised if the CEO believes that the status quo is acceptable. Chances are he or she has not thought long and hard about this relationship. Remember it's more important to you than it is to them. Use the information you glean from this discussion to decide whether to move your relationship, and, if so, where to move it and how to move it.
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