Jim Crocker –  Founder and CEO of Boardroom Metrics.

In preparation for dinner last week (‘Why CIO’s Need to Change Their Role’) with a group of 20 CIO’s, I asked the Boardroom Metrics team of ex-CEO’s, CIO’s, consultants and others to give me their input. Here’s what they told me about CIO, CEO, the CIO roles and how to do it well.

1.    Different personalities – recognize the personality differences and learn to communicate based on CEO’s having lots of Drive, big picture, open to risk; CIO’s more detail, less risk.

2.     Biggest challenge for CIO’s – understanding the context in which technology will be applied – crack that and always be valuable; don’t just be viewed as solely responsible for application development and the use of technology.

3.    Key roadblock: the business is not willing to engage the way it needs to ensure the success of technology solutions. Without a truly combined effort between business and IT, software projects will fail.

4.    CIO’s: Be ‘commercial’ – While you can debate who should be setting corporate direction, I would call out that when a CIO is “Commercial” and has a solid understanding of the business [what it does, how it does it, what it needs to manage it], they can play a key role in the management of the business and often in the capital spending direction. Some areas would include;

  • Review and recommend system simplification for users,
  • Deliver info relevant to scorecards and driving the business,
  • Bring new and relevant technology to the CEO that could help the business,
  • SPEAK THE LANGUAGE! One of the best CIO’s I have had the pleasure of working with, had the ability to break it down to the simplest language, didn’t need to be smarter than everyone in the room [he was often] and forced his team to do the same.

How? This means allowing them to ask questions and having the other business disciplines respond.

5.    CEO Priorities. CEO priorities are about sustaining & growing the business so priorities are focused on customers, developing leaders, efficiencies.  CIO has to figure out how they are going to support the CEO’s priorities and explain the how they are going do it.

6.    You know the business. CIO’s have been taught to get the specs before starting when they probably have a reasonable understanding what the business needs.  (What would you do if this was your business?)

7.    Like the heads of HR, it’s up to the CIO to create understanding. Most execs I’ve known outside IT, just aren’t going to prioritize finding out more about IT– they have other fish to fry in their known universe. So it’s really up to the CIO to take the leadership role, become informed about business priorities, lingo and applications across the organization and set up ongoing dialogue and relationships for success if they want their wisdom, accomplishments and assets to be more recognized and leveraged.

8.    Know the value you’re adding. CEO’s want to understand how CIO’s are adding value to the company not which button or technology is best.

9.    Find new solutions for ‘critical path’ management. I’ve seen too many well intentioned CIO’s, commit when they know there are still key unknowns preventing them from making guarantees. Opening up this point with business owners for deeper dialogue and new solutions for their critical path management is one of the next frontiers in the situations I’m familiar with.

10.    Accept that the CEO doesn’t understand technology but must still understand you! CIO’s need to stop thinking that the CEO does not understand them and accept that they probably won’t understand the technology and figure out what the business needs and deliver.

11.    Understand where CEO’s get their clues! Then help them understand the rest of the story. Technology is a disruptive industry and CEO’s understanding come from other CEOs, trade magazines and success stories but there is little said about what it took to get to the success.

12.    Understand the business and succeed. CIO is a tough job but the more they understand the business and contribute the better they will do.
13.    Learn how to support employees in their relationships – and help achieve business goals. the opportunity is to enhance, enable and support the employee in their relationship to each other, building and reinforcing culture, supporting new and different ways to interact via technology, creating and supporting “intra social networking” building innovation, continuous improvement, high performance and leadership at all levels. All of this could directly impact customer experience, therefore loyalty to the company, greater market share.

14.    Learn how to support customer relationships with the company. The other, of course, is more obvious and that is the ease by which the customer can interact with the company through technology.

15.    How not to be viewed. CIO’s are all too often NOT seen as proactive, enabling members of the executive team. Instead, they are seen as the bearer, and owner, of bad news; what went wrong, what can’t be done, what has gone over budget.

16.    Put business requirements first. The technology has to serve the business, not the other way around, with the clear understanding that the technology will never be ‘perfect’, but it must be good enough.

17.    It’s up to CEO’s to engage effectively.  (and other senior management) fail to engage with CIO’s (and the rest of the IT department) in an effective way. That is, CEO’s let themselves get bamboozled by all the techno-babble and lose sight of the business objective that must be met.

18.    From the business side? State the problem, not the solution. My best success with getting anything out of an IT department, at any level, has come from clearly stating the problem I want solved, in as fundamental, non-IT terms as possible, and then being relentless in demanding that the IT morass be sorted out to solve my problem.

19.    Recognize why CEOs freak out. No CEO of a manufacturing facility, say, HVAC systems would take any crap from his COO about how a production line upgrade is, all of a sudden, going to take 300% longer than originally thought.

20.    Stop the CEO from messing things up. Of course, the flip side of that discussion is that the COO will tell the CEO to get stuffed (or quit) if the CEO comes along halfway through the project and insists that a whole new product must be supported by the upgraded line