Friday, September 16, 2016

The CIO’s Situational Leadership for IT Digital Transformation

IT leaders have to practice transformational leadership, situational leadership, and innovative leadership all the way in order to lead digital transformation seamlessly.

Many IT organizations are on the inflection point for digital transformation, to transform from a cost center to a growth engine, from a back office function to a digital brain front yard, and from a help desk to an innovation hub. CIOs are wearing multiple hats, practice situational leadership to bridge the industrial age with the Digital Era, to focus on information management, process optimization, business innovation, and overall organizational maturity. Many think IT is shifting from a static function which is often controlling or even lagging behind the changes to a people-centric changing organization. Here are a couple of leadership and management roles CIOs need to balance well for improving IT efficiency, effectiveness, and agility.

The CIO needs to know when to play as a transformational leader when to be a transactional manager: Forward-looking IT organizations need to contribute to the business’s strategic planning and drive the digital transformation of the entire organization. As such, the CIO must be a strategic leader as their peer executive officers, understand the whole business models, customers, and the markets the business operates in, understand the competitive landscape, have a medium/long term investment and performance horizon in mind. Making sure that the money and resources being spent on IT is aligned with the long-term goals of the company and not just have fun with new technologies. CIOs do need to be tactical when necessary, being hands-on means CIOs shouldn't ignore key details or measure results, envisioning the future and seeing around the corner are both important -why, who, what, when, where, how., etc. CIOs should have the hands-on key management processes that feed them the facts upon which to make better strategic decisions and measure how well they are doing. However, pay more attention to the pitfalls to act as a micromanager: Ineffective “hands-on” means they are interfering, meddling, tinkering or overbearing, undermining their people and therefore inhibiting the decision-making processes and stifling execution of the required deliverables. Most IT managers who make the progress through the ranks have a hard time letting go of what made them successful. But once they pass that and learn to be strategic, they often have the ability to move back and forth as a transformational leader and tactical IT manager effectively.

The CIO needs to figure out when IT should be a rule maker, and when IT should take orders from customers: Traditional IT organizations only serve internal users and play a supporting role via taking orders from customers. With the emergent digital technologies, the importance of IT organization is significantly increased, now many IT organizations also play a critical role in digitizing the touch points and improving the overall experience of the end customers. Changing IT away from an order taker role is more than about semantics. IT will always have a role in doing internal support. The trick is separating the internal actions so they run in an auto mode and letting the CIO focus on managing a portfolio of strategic projects that have a quantifiable business return. In order to run IT as a business partner, IT needs also to make policies for a smooth digital transformation. IT has the power to say “NO” to other internal business units if something is not in the best interest of the company. IT should also listen to both internal and end customers, and become an integral part of any business. Otherwise, the gaps between business and IT won’t be shrunk, and no wonder many IT organizations still get stuck at a lower level of maturity.

CIOs in the well-established companies more often than not need to shift their management orientation and begin thinking like entrepreneurs: The mantra of digital IT organizations is “Running IT as a software Startup,” and “Doing more with innovation.” IT entrepreneurialism becomes a new fixture for management in their efforts to substantiate their competitive position, affect the marketing landscape, and drive new revenue growth. The IT department should provide guidance, support, assistance and direction in the application and adoption of information technology solutions in support of business objectives! Today, IT is a competitive advantage for many successful businesses, the failure of IT will make the company suffer, or cause the business mighty fall. Hence, it's important in running IT as a business, set the right KPIs to measure the level of IT contribution. Take Operating expenses (normally where IT costs are collected) if IT part cost remains constant in terms of value compared to gross; IT is then contributing to productivity increase or the top line business growth.

IT has both gains and pains in leading digital transformation: On one side, it is a great opportunity for IT to reinvent its tarnished reputation to become a strategic partner of the business or a digital catalyzer; on the other side, there are still silo mentality, infighting, roadblocks, or pitfalls on the way. The pervasive digitization requires both business and technology professionals to rethink how things are done in organizations. The “reach and range” flexibility now exists removes barriers that have existed in the past. And IT leaders have to practice transformational leadership, situational leadership, and innovative leadership all the way.


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