Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Should CIOs Become “Creative Digital Populist”

Being a digital populist doesn't mean that CIOs lack of character, acts as an order taker only. In fact, confident CIOs with strong character are in demand to rebrand IT as the strategic and trustful business partner. 


Nowadays, information is permeating into every corner of the organization, technology is the driven force behind the digital transformation. IT is making an impact on almost every dimension of the organization. CIOs should step into the void of digital leadership by shaping the strategic mindset, gaining interdisciplinary knowledge, and developing differentiated professional competencies. They are neither controller nor order taker, should they become “creative digital populist,” to harmonize IT-business relationship, delight customers, and engage employees? Do they have a distinct vision about the future of the organization and a clear idea of what needs to be done, for improving IT organizational effectiveness and maturity? Being a digital populist doesn't mean that CIOs lack of character, only run IT as a support center. In fact, confident CIOs with strong character are in demand to rebrand IT as the strategic business partner.

Make IT organization the strategic partner that businesses enjoy working with: The best way for IT to achieve partnership is to listen to business users. The CIO needs to understand the needs of the different business units, but their needs/vision would be spelled out by their functional managers, not the CIO. Let them tell you their stories, frustrations, or pain points. Be fluent with digital dialogues and enforce cross-functional communication and collaboration. Truly understanding the business problem is important because you don’t want to come across as having a solution looking for a problem. CIOs can identify and propose business development/ improvement ideas, but you have to know and relate to what they value and how they quantify that value first before you can add real business value. As a trustful IT leader, if you can innovate across the business scope, regardless of which function you are involved in, and then, you can shape of what you deliver, and make continuous deliveries, not just how it’s delivered. Being a creative digital populist means that CIOs need to forge a harmonized relationship with business users, partners, and shareholders and add multidimensional business value to the company in a consistent way.

Make a shift from IT-business alignment to IT-customer alignment: The digital revolution means that channels to customers. The traditional IT organizations focus on IT and business alignment, digital IT goes a step further and moves up to IT and business integration as well as IT and customer alignment. IT has both internal business customers and end customers. Being “creative digital populist” means that CIOs should focus on building a customer-centric IT to empower internal users with efficient platforms or tools to improve their productivity and innovativeness, as well as delight end customers by digitizing the touch points to improve their satisfaction. In reality, customers are always demanding, and IT is already overloading. If IT always sees this as two conflicting forces pulling in opposite directions, you are most likely to get caught and always fall short of business and customer expectations. Keep in mind though, being customer-centric doesn’t mean IT should just take the orders blindly, do what customers ask to do without the doubt. IT has always gone through the dilemma of "customers are always right" vs. "rational approach in designing a solution." Discover what is at the heart of the problem, and suggest the solutions that will benefit the customer, the company and the overall direction of IT. To put simply, IT needs to play an advisory role in solving customer-related problems more creatively, holistically and intellectually.

Build a happy organization employees are highly engaged and IT is highly respected: In the majority of traditional organizations, employees engagement are very low, and IT skills gap is the reality. People are the most important business assets and capitals, innovation happens at the intersection point of people and business, as well as people and technology. Thus, people development is crucial for the business’s long-term success. Influencing people and understanding to cater their needs are the great qualities of the leaders. A “creative digital populist” CIO needs to invest in their people and keep them happy. Let people explore where their energy is and then, align the energy to work at hand, and motivate them to think and do things innovatively. The part of the digital transformation journey is to prepare people for the new structures and to recognize this is a crucial step. High mature digital organizations have highly innovative culture and creative workforce. Highly engaging workforces are highly interested in the work, deriving meaning from the work being performed, and performing the work in a pleasant or harmonious environment. In such a working environment, creativity, self-management, autonomy, self-discovery, and mastery are inspired. Organizations should engage teams early in the process via robust communications, training, and core process workshops to identify issues, concerns, and strategies for making the smooth shift from an overly-rigid process-driven mode to people-centric mode,

No wonder the CIO is one of the most paradoxical and sophisticated leadership roles. There are both toughness and softness, character and charisma in becoming a creative digital populist CIO who can think like the anthropologist for running a people-centric organization to enchant customers, empower employees, evolve business partners, invite all sorts of business partners for feedback, with the ultimate goal to run a high performance and highly innovative IT organization.

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