Getting back to the coalface

Getting back to the coalface

Have you walked in your employees' shoes lately?

It’s a truism of promotion and advancement: The further up the corporate ladder you go, the less you have a view of what’s at the foot of it. Yet, it is the people just starting their ascent who will help you reach the top. Gaining their respect and support will enable you to rapidly change and transform your organisation for the better.

The CIO is under more pressure than ever before. In fact, according to the Harvey Nash 2012 CIO Survey, Australian CIOs have never had such a wide ranging role, been so in demand or time poor.

Our research found:

  • 44 per cent of CIOs have international responsibility, coordinating meetings around different time zones and spending time overseas can be demanding

  • 56 per cent are focused on projects that make money, rather than save money (mostly through accelerated time to market and mobile solutions), which requires operational know-how, technical savvy and willing foot soldiers to execute your plan

  • 59 per cent sit on the board, necessitating a constant strategic vision and ‘big picture’ thinking

  • 97 per cent believe their organisation has more potential for innovation and that advancements will come from digital and mobile solutions; more than half believe digital solutions are driven by IT and not marketing.

CIOs today need to be operational, innovative, strategic, technical, and cross-functional. And yet, even this does not guarantee to stimulate your department to innovate. Given the constraints above, what is the best way for you to exhibit the behaviours that will inspire and motivate staff?

At the Harvey Nash Sydney CIO Event – attended by more than 80 CIOs and IT leaders – our panel was asked what they have done to walk in their staff’s shoes. They all had very different responses and priorities but the common belief was the need for empathy.

They attributed this quality to those people who have been in other roles across an organisation and experienced the challenges and pitfalls they face. So, what is the most effective way for you to work on the front line with your staff?

Be strategic

Organising time to job share should happen in the context of your personal, department and organisation’s strategy. For instance, Ken Gallacher, CIO of the ABC and member of the panel at the 2012 Harvey Nash Sydney CIO Event, spends most of his time in content areas because the ABC is driven by content.

Remember though – you must be egalitarian with your time to ensure that everyone receives attention and focus.

Your time is precious, so be intelligent about how and where you spend it. Identify your key people and their own key stakeholders, and then ensure you start to build relationships and credibility with them. Your own personal development and reputation will grow exponentially.

Be holistic

Every organisation is different and thus will require different strategies to connect, influence and build relationships with staff.

Ensure that your strategy fits with the overall style of the organisation itself: if you work with a large corporate, it can be very effective to introduce ‘job shadowing’ (where a new employee spends time observing an experienced staff member). If you work for a small start-up, then ensure that you remain highly visible and empathetic to their colleagues.

Tim Parsons, CIO of Quickflix, a fast growing online digital business, and member of the panel at the CIO event said: “For us, it’s about making sure people are exposed to other roles [and] they can see and empathise with other roles. We keep people connected in that way. When we grow to being a much larger business, I think we’ll probably have to start [job shadowing].”

Be innovative

Being inventive about the way you connect with people across your organisation will earn you a reputation for being novel, innovative and fun to connect with. Your approach to a group in marketing should be very different than your approach to a group in procurement.

Think about your target audience and what they might appreciate, enjoy or what be a value add for them. Don’t make it too complicated or costly – sometimes the simplest things are best.

You can try more complex ideas which require more involvement and commitment once you’ve built some currency in the internal market. Look for those ‘quick wins’ that will rapidly establish you as a problem solver and thought leader.

Be genuine

CIOs are busier than ever before, driving strategy, managing their own department, cross functional projects and trying to develop staff. It can be difficult to tear yourself away from all that and spend time in a business role.

The resentment or frustration you may feel could be visible to those staff that you are shadowing or spending time with which can render the whole exercise pointless.

The people you are gaining face time with are those who can rapidly deploy or change the face of that project that keeps dragging along. So, remember why you are undertaking this and be genuine about how you connect with others in the business. The way you approach this time in the trenches can be the difference between gaining no traction whatsoever and learning strong departmental intelligence about how to make that project succeed.

ABC’s Gallacher says: “I make the effort to get out there and spend time in the business to understand it as opposed to when you’re talking strategically, particularly in the throes of a project, and you really don’t get it”.

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