Keeping Score

Practising feedback analysis and understanding how your peers learn enhance the CIO's ability to communicate complex topics

Tired of justifying your seat at the executive table? Get your peers to stop thinking of the CIO as a service provider and start treating you like a business partner.

It should not be so, but often a CIO's success or failure is based on peer perceptions. Control those perceptions and you control your right to a seat at the executive table.

It boils down to being able to effectively articulate your contribution to your peers. By investigating the practices of 20 CIOs, we've found that successful CIOs use a combination of tools to achieve this.

It starts with the use of a four-part scorecard covering operational, individual, IS and enterprise contributions.

Four-Part Scorecard: Operational Contributions

Every successful CIO interviewed does one thing in common every day. They clear their head of operational firefighting - if only briefly - to create space to ask themselves the question: How do I remain relevant?

They run through a mental checklist to assess the credibility of their IS organization.

For example, operational budgets need to be an agreed percentage of revenue, most likely between two and four percent. Capital projects spending needs to be directly proportional to the amount of revenue expected from the investment, most likely calculated as return on investment, with the return being in eight months to two years.

Response time is also important. It's generally construed as a key indicator of operational efficiency against revenue generation.

And system availability also rates a mention. Simply put, if the system is not available, revenue cannot be generated, and the business is let down.

And now then there's the hard part: What else do I need to do? How can I develop my organization? How can I communicate our successes better?

Four-Part Scorecard: Individual Contributions

After the CIO has signed off mentally on contribution and knows his or her credibility is still intact, successful CIOs focus relentlessly on their interpersonal communication and collaboration skills.

Practising feedback analysis and understanding how your peers learn enhance the CIO's ability to communicate complex topics.

Be positioned to respond to questions like: What are the metrics in your compensation? How should that change to include your contribution role? Do you keep track of major business objectives? Are you part of a larger management bonus pool? If not, should that change? If you are part of that pool, do you use that as a collaboration driver with your CXO peers?

Even if you don't have a formal compensation structure tied to peer performance, organize your thinking in that mode. For example: How will I not only help myself earn my bonus, but what am I doing to help my peers earn their bonuses? This will focus the finance version of your individual skills scorecard.

Other questions concern the quality of peer relationships: Do your peers have a clear understanding of your role? Do you update your elevator pitch and practise it? How do you get feedback, and how often? How do you interpret its results? All of these practices will improve the quality of peer relations.

How much of your weekly calendar is devoted to peer time? How much is devoted to self education? How much time do you spend with your immediate reports? With others in IS? Are you out of the IT department at least 50 percent of the time? Striking an effective balance among tasks, especially with peers, will begin to characterize you as a contributor among equals.

Do you understand how your peers learn? Do you communicate with them in that mode? Have you noticed any uptake of new ideas as a result? Have you noticed any change in "peer noise" as you've honed your communication styles with each?

Document stakeholder interactions and issues. One CIO proposed this technique: "I look at my calendar every day, and make sure my key disciplines are evenly divided into three pieces of pie: Activities - the 'what I do' - calls, meetings, reports, networking; Attributes - the 'how I do it' - did I make someone mad, happy, satisfied, added value?; Results - the 'so what' - so, I did numbers one and two, but for what? How did I contribute?"

He documents interactions and issues for each key stakeholder peer. He also aggregates this data over time, and tries to discern patterns of behaviour, both problematic and valuable, from each side. As he sees approaches that work well, he tries to internalize them, while becoming more aware of those that hinder his contribution development.

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Document how peers learn. Most CIOs interviewed said that they had long struggled with communicating complex business/technology issues to their colleagues. What became apparent to those who successfully communicated, or "taught" their colleagues about these complex issues, was a respect for how their peers consumed and internalized information.

For example, if the executive vice president of sales learns by "talking it out" rather than by reading a memo, the CIO can dramatically improve the quality of collaboration with this EVP by "talking things out".

Also understand performance types - that is, a peer's mode of working. For example, suppose the EVP of sales is a team player. If the CIO, on the other hand, learns by reading, and performs as a loner and adviser, this CIO is likely to be more successful by engaging the gregarious EVP of sales in a talking mode, one on one, as an adviser so that the EVP can make a more informed decision.

Create a matrix of key stakeholders, your understanding of how they learn, and the role they seem most comfortable playing when interacting with IT.

Document how you spend your time. CIOs have different ways of assessing how they spend their time. Most manage their time on a weekly basis:

For example, one CIO divides his time between inside and outside: 70 percent what he calls "on the inside", with his peers and committees; 30 percent "on the outside"; and a third of that with customers. He gets out and "works the hallways". He "doesn't trust written reports". He goes out and sees for himself "firsthand", spending a third of the time with his team and the remaining third (or 10 percent) of his time with vendors.

All our interviewees had one thing in common: vigilance over time management. Striking the right balance can better ensure that you are adequately honing your own skills, educating your peers, and leading your IS organization toward business contribution.

Four-Part Scorecard: IS Contributions

Generally, a CIO's reputation is built by their IS staff. If the CIO is truly to lead for contribution, he or she needs to lead for a contribution mind-set within the IS organization. CIOs can track their contribution leadership of the IS organization on a scorecard.

The project management office (PMO) was used in a number of cases to provide a collaborative environment for IT staff and business representatives. This environment provided contribution proof, mainly along the lines of time, cost and quality. It also provided independent progress reporting and expectations setting via monthly issues and problem resolutions reports.

Satisfaction surveys topped the list as a key metric, with multiple members relying on them. While this might be viewed as an operational set of metrics by most, these CIOs "read between the lines" of the survey to discern trends in staff development needs (or successes), and hence CIO leadership towards contribution.

Deliberate daily, weekly, monthly and annual staff interactions are key practices in IS staff contribution development. They also provide a key learning feedback loop for the CIO to assess what's working and what's not working from a contribution perspective.

Four-Part Scorecard: Enterprise Contributions

After considering their personal and IS leadership skills, the successful CIO focuses on enterprise contribution. Specifically, they hone in on translating IT metrics to a business contribution language, and ensure that all IT initiatives are aligned with corporate strategy.

Corporate performance management (CPM) is an umbrella term that describes the methodologies, metrics, processes and systems used to plan, monitor and manage an enterprise's business performance.

Bringing business solutions to the enterprise, whether or not they contain an IT component, is important. These solutions will most likely be business process based, and extend enterprise competitive advantage.

A clear articulation of the CIO's contribution to the bottom line serves to educate the CEO and board about the transformational value IT has brought to bear on the business.

Business performance framework: a good dialogue tool. The business performance framework provides a vehicle for IS organizations to expand the dialogue with their businesses' counterparts from purely cost reduction to revenue growth.

The framework holistically covers the controllable activities that occur in the typical enterprise.

These activities fall into three broad aspects - demand management, supply management and support services. These three aspects are further broken down into what we call aggregate measures.

For example, the aggregate measures for demand management include market responsiveness, sales effectiveness and product-development effectiveness.

Each aggregate measure breaks down further into what we call prime measures.

CIOs must demonstrate value to reap contribution. The combined use of these tools are in no way presented as some form of silver bullet, however they do provide a jump start for CIOs facing the need to demonstrate their personal and organizational contribution.

Andrew Rowsell-Jones is vice president and research director for Gartner's CIO Executive Programs