Communication and people skills separate technicians from leaders in the CIO chair.
Source: WSJ CIO, 6/22/16 by Ken Porrello / Khalid Kark, Deloitte Consulting
Why do some CIOs readily adapt and excel more than others in today’s fast-changing, tech-fueled environment? CIOs themselves may help to provide the answer. In Deloitte’s CIO Program survey, 1,271 respondents were asked to identify the characteristics of a successful technology leader and then to list their current strengths. They overwhelmingly chose five characteristics (Figure 1).
However, only 9 percent of respondents credit themselves with all five of these characteristics. (Survey respondents overall get points for honesty and self-awareness.) As one CIO put it, “If there weren’t such a dearth of these qualities in the technology space, they wouldn’t be considered so important.” The gap between the characteristics CIOs identify as necessary for success and those they attribute to themselves was greatest in three areas: ability to influence internal stakeholders; attracting, retaining, and motivating talent; and technology vision and leadership.
These three gaps, collectively, point to a bigger issue for CIOs—a lack of social intelligence. Social intelligence is a commonly used term to describe the capacity to effectively navigate and negotiate complex social relationships and environments. For our purposes, we’ve extended that definition to include the three critical but often missing attributes CIOs need to succeed.
How much does social intelligence matter for CIO success? A lot, it turns out. In working with newly appointed CIOs, we ask their business stakeholders (more than 200 to date) to define their expectations of the new CIO. The ability to attract, retain, and motivate talent and the ability to influence stakeholders—two of the three capabilities embodied in social intelligence and acknowledged as gaps by CIOs—topped the stakeholders’ list of expectations. Yet, despite a clear need to address their social intelligence gaps, many CIOs lack a coherent plan for doing so.
Becoming a Socially Intelligent CIO
What does it take to actually become a socially intelligent CIO? Our interviews with CIOs who fit the definition uncovered three major steps:
1. Become politically savvy. Most successful CIOs understand the politics of their role and organization and can navigate it to their advantage. They have a comprehensive grasp of the implications of their actions and are capable of analyzing the political culture and circumstances associated with the issues they face. They then can quickly identify the strategic relationships needed to attain their objectives. To enhance this know-how:
– Form coalitions and alliances. Success in any C-suite role depends on executive support. Establishing alliances, courting stakeholders, and developing strong advocates is essential to ultimately getting buy-in and backing.
– Use empathy to overcome resistance. Every business leader has an agenda, priorities, and goals. Take the time to understand and acknowledge these, or expect to be met with resistance. One CIO tells all his newly hired direct reports to spend their first two weeks reaching out to 30 business stakeholders to understand their performance goals and success measures before discussing technology.
2. Build a brand, not just an organization. Branding is an important tool for building trust and credibility with business stakeholders and aligning technology resources under a set of common beliefs. A brand promise allows the CIO and the IT organization to make conscious choices and investments to fulfill promises to stakeholders. Start by:
– Carefully defining cultural norms and expectations. Issuing edicts is easy; building, nurturing, and reinforcing behaviors to align with the culture is hard. One CIO encourages high performance as a cultural attribute by challenging his staff with aggressive goals, which they often achieve. But he also has a healthy appetite for failure, which includes rewarding risk takers even if goals are not met.
– Fulfilling the brand promise at every customer interaction. Whether the brand promise is reliability, security, resilience, agility, or innovation, get the whole IT organization behind it and exhibit behaviors that reflect and reinforce it.
3. Develop and articulate a clear technology vision. Unless CIOs understand business expectations and develop a narrative that clearly articulates the role of technology in meeting those expectations, misalignment with business stakeholders will persist. As part of that process:
– Abandon technology strategy. A lack of alignment between CIO priorities and business stakeholder priorities signifies a disconnect between technology and business approaches. To sidestep this dilemma, look to business strategy for direction and clearly identify the role of technology in achieving business goals.
– Be a master storyteller. Bringing technology vision to life requires CIOs to essentially campaign, using master storytelling techniques to influence a diverse audience from IT staff to business stakeholders. If storytelling does not come naturally, enlist the help of communications experts. One CIO recruited two of his firm’s corporate communications employees to work with him full-time on crafting the IT narrative.
The good news is social intelligence skills can be learned with personal reflection and effort, and a strong, well-balanced leadership team can augment the personal skills of any leader.
—by Ken Porrello, principal, and Khalid Kark, research director, Deloitte Consulting LLP