Sunday, September 17, 2017

CIOs as “Chief Influence Officer”: How to Influence the Business Influencers Effectively

Prepare, listen, question, and participate. IT plays a critical role in taking the organization to the next level of maturity.


IT is the business, every business across the industrial sectors is in the information management business now, and IT plays a crucial role in digital transformation. But the reality is, IT is still perceived as a support function to keep the lights on only. Why is IT not part of the inner circle? Could it be that IT is seen as a cost and not a strategic investment? Could it also because that CIOs haven’t done enough to advocate IT as the change agent? CIOs need to become more visible and accountable as “Chief Influence Officers,” learn how to influence the business influencers effectively.  


How can IT motivate their non-IT executives to want to get engaged and stay engaged? The potential of IT is often underutilized and underappreciated by the business or customers because of a communication breakdown. As such, one of the most important titles for CIOs is “Chief Influence Officer,” to make leadership influence at the scope of the entire business or even the industry. CIOs must be the strategic leader as their peer executive officers, speak business language, not technical jargons; and conversely, others need to listen to what they have to say. A little translation on both sides would go a long way. CIOs should 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. Most importantly, to motivate non-IT executives to get engaged in the conversations, CIOs need to talk about commercial outcomes, not technical throughput, be seen to be leveraging current assets before seeking latest techie toys. Often times the business crowd wrongly equate IT solutions with concerns of expensive technical difficulties and the IT crowd builds more out of its own know-how than the need of the business customers. Thus, CIOs need to assume the role of business advisor, technical translator, and digital orchestrator and encourage others to do the same.


What are the things that should be done to be able to establish and maintain effective formal and informal conversations with business influencers? CIOs should master audience tailored business conversations because different stakeholders of the business have different concerns about IT for meeting their needs. A CIO that can communicate effectively with all levels of the organization via different styles, formal or informal way, has a solid grasp of the business goals and objectives and can interpret them into an IT strategy as well as mapping into IT management practice without “lost in translation.” In order to motivate non-IT executives, formal and informal meetings with individual stakeholders should focus on the stakeholder's needs and IT current and future initiatives that address those needs.  IT can no longer act as a business controller, IT entrepreneurialism becomes a new fixture for management in their efforts to substantiate their competitive position, affect market landscape, and drive new revenue growth. So, CIOs must take the time and effort to sway stakeholders and of course selves towards IT being a true business goal enabling asset, not just a "supporting" function. CIOs not only should have a seat on the table, more importantly, they need to have a voice, and play a significant role in co-creating business strategy, both through formal or informal communication and tailor different audience.


Can you ask open and insightful questions for appreciating fresh viewpoints and enforce cross-functional communication? Great communications evolve all sorts of techniques. Either at C-Table or the boardroom or have a touchy-feely chat with end customers, the most powerful tool of a senior leader is the capacity to ask good questions. Because great open questions attract different perspectives, encourage critical thinking and deepen the understanding of business issues. Appreciates that the value of alternative perspectives and insights which say nothing of not trusting - simply looking from a different stance, and asking different questions. In this regards, CIOs as “Chief Inquisitive Officer” enforces their role as “Chief Influence Officer.” IT leaders and staff are not only just “know-how” people to provide technical solutions to customers, but also the facilitators who can collect customers’ feedback and initiate open conversations to figure out better ways to delight customers and benefit businesses.


Until CIOs think, talk, and act commercially rather than technically, they will remain strangers in a strange land. Prepare, listen, question, and participate. IT plays a critical role in taking the organization to the next level of maturity.  CIOs should build a very collaborative relationship with all peer CxOs because IT is a value-added solutionary to the entire company.

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