Sunday, December 2, 2018

The CIO as Digital Conversationist: Is IT Communication a Vicious or Virtuous Cycle

The goal for improving communication transparency and effectiveness is to make hierarchical systems adaptive so that they can respond to the challenges of a more complex, interconnected, and interdependent world.

Communications are the tools to solve problems, and languages are the tools to make communications. Communication clarity directly impacts on the business effectiveness and organizational maturity. However, in many organizations, miscommunication or misunderstanding leads to conflict and malfunction. Often, communication gaps are caused by cognitive difference, ambiguous process, or management bottleneck, etc. Information Technology plays a crucial role in driving information-based communication and breaking down communication bottleneck. Communication also directly impacts IT management effectiveness. The CIO as a digital conversationist needs to make an objective assessment: Does IT communication often go through a vicious or a virtuous cycle? How can IT leaders and professionals leverage different conversation styles to construct the collaborative vision and deliver high-performance IT result for the long run?

How to break down stereotypes and communication bottlenecks? IT failure is often caused by solving the wrong problems or fixing the symptoms only due to the miscommunication between IT and business. The gap between IT and business is the reality. And one of the critical root causes is lack of communication clarity. People all filter information differently based on their understanding and experiences. When communication is based on stereotypes, unconscious bias or command control, it often leads to a vicious cycle. Thus, to improve communication effectiveness, IT needs to forge a mature adult relationship with business users, since today’s multi-generational knowledge, multicultural, and multi-devicing workforce are either technology immigrants or digital natives, overall they are more savvy about the wide range of technology than IT manager gives credit for. Further, IT leaders and professionals need to reinvent their reputation from the misunderstood geeks to the trustful business partners; from “controllers” to enablers; from victims of circumstance to digital shapers; and from overloaded and unappreciated back office function to a work hard and smart innovator. The connection between IT and business lies in using the common language to help business cross that bridge to IT. Respect your audience's cognitive diversity and professional interest, and try to send the message which appeals to them. The digital transformation is in the agenda of any forward-thinking organizations, this is a phenomenal opportunity for the CIO to communicate effectively, educate other executive leadership teams on the value of IT, as well as how she/he can help to accelerate the leadership's strategy and agenda coming and for the future years.

What are great practices and tools to improve IT communication effectiveness?
Language is a method of communicating thoughts. IT leaders and professionals are polyglots who often need to understand IT jargon, business language, as well as multiple computing/programming languages in order to initiate audience tailored communications. Strategic CIOs can speak the architect’s dialect to understand things in both abstract and design level; they also need to adapt to finance tongue; of course, effective CIOs are good at technology terms to understand IT staff, and knowing some key technical details as well. Successful CIOs of today has to understand sales/marketing dialect, to "sell" his/her ideas and proposals to be effective executives. Define communication platforms and implement collaboration tools to be used. Digital platforms enabled by emerging technologies, efficient apps, and tools, help to break down functional silos, business hierarchy, and geographical border, allow people across the business ecosystem to leveraging multiple communication channels, share knowledge and work  for solving problems, overcoming common challenges, and emphasizing on communication, participation, and relationship building collaboratively. When communication leads to rumor, blame or fingerpointing, it’s gone to the vicious cycle. Remember, actions or words are said to be the second order. Thoughts are the first order. Practice information-based conversations or touch-feely talks to both connect the minds and touch the hearts for leading communication to a virtuous cycle. The ultimate goal of running a fluid digital organization is to get the mass collaboration and create business synergy through less hierarchy, cross-functional communication, with highly integrated processes designed for running a hyperconnected and interdependent business.

How to assess and measure communication outcome: Communication is the media, the tool, with the goal of leading change and business success. How to communicate just right is really critical to the business’s long-term strategy implementation and employees' engagement. It’s all about striking the right balance to communicate effectively and achieve the end goals. To break down communication bottleneck, the hard communication barriers such as outdated processes, procedures, practices should be updated, and the soft communication obstacles like culture, politics or leadership style, etc., need to be overcome. To measure communication effectiveness, focus on measuring process optimization and behavior improvement. The highly effective IT leader has to be prepared to constantly realign technology against the enterprise's business communication needs and measure how communication effectiveness enables the business's success. For example, the strategic goal of IT communication is about digital transformability. It should be measured based on the progress made for digital transformation initiatives, either through employee engagement improvement or business cross-functional collaboration enhancement. Thus, the business goal behind the IT measurement, either for soft management disciplines such as communication or the overall IT management performance has to focus on benefits generation, return on investment and contribution to either the bottom line business survival or the top-line business growth.

The goal for improving communication transparency and effectiveness is to make hierarchical systems adaptive so that they can respond to the challenges of a more complex, interconnected, and interdependent world. Breaking through the bottlenecks for improving the organizational responsiveness and changeability is a strategic imperative behind communication. The update and accurate information can make conversations more trustful; the digital platforms and tools improve communication processes and procedures for keeping communication flow and reaching the virtuous communication cycle smoothly.


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