How can a CIO be in sync with his organization and consistently fight the rise of shadow IT within the four walls of his enterprise?
It’s critical to build partnerships across the organization to be an effective CIO. The reasons are obvious. As a CIO, you need to know the organization’s priorities to use your IT resources most effectively. These priorities exist not only at the C-suite level but at all levels across your the organization. If a CIO listens only to his or her executive management, he/she runs the risk of becoming irrelevant to other key players. This can lead to the rise of multiple shadow IT departments and projects. A decentralized IT organization is not a negative thing by default but hidden IT departments operating without a partnership with central IT almost always lead to duplication of effort and conflicting projects.
Hidden IT departments operating without a partnership with central IT almost always lead to duplication of effort and conflicting projects.
So, how can a CIO avoid falling into the trap of becoming insulated to what’s going on in his organization? It’s actually pretty simple. He needs to go out and talk to his stakeholders and, more importantly, listen to them. Yes, it’s that simple. The key phrase here is “go out.” Many CIOs talk about having an “open door” policy. That implies that anyone can come into their cabin and talk to them. I’m suggesting that it’s more important to have a more proactive approach. Take up the initiative to get out of your cabin, set up meetings with your colleagues and meet them where they are. Request meetings with people that you don’t normally see and then go meet them in their space. Offer to make presentations at your colleagues’ staff meetings. Go to lunch with people you don’t usually work with. Get creative about connecting with your stakeholders.
The Three Prime Barriers
But if it’s so easy, why isn’t every CIO doing this? I can think of three barriers. First, we’re too busy to make time to talk to others. But talking to others will lead to more requests for help. With respect to the first item, just make it a practice to set aside an hour a week to meet with a colleague elsewhere in the organization. It’s not hard to find an hour if we simply reserve it ahead of time. And yes, these meetings will result in more requests for IT assistance, and it’s true that the CIO won’t be able to accommodate those requests. But there are two benefits to simply knowing those needs. Even if the CIO can’t accommodate the request and the need is met with a shadow IT project, at least the CIO will have visibility into what’s going on. This means that this shadow IT project has more chance of success and it also gives the CIO an opportunity to influence the project to at least be in compliance with the overall IT strategy and direction. Supporting a shadow IT project in this way also builds trust with the partner. Finally, knowing some of these hidden needs allows the CIO to prepare for the future and plan for requests for additional resources based on the needs of the organization.
Comfort can lead to complacency, and in our ever-changing world of technology, being complacent can be your biggest enemy.
The second barrier is to be too comfortable. Building partnerships across the organization with people that we usually don’t work with pushes us outside of our comfort zone. I would argue that it’s important for leaders to step outside their comfort zone with some regularity. Comfort can lead to complacency, and in our ever-changing world of technology, being complacent can be your biggest enemy.
Finally, there could be a physical barrier to building partnerships, particularly in larger organizations. In many larger organizations, IT and other support services are housed in physically separate locations making it more difficult to meet with colleagues who are more directly involved with the “core” of the business. The first way to address this is to make time to visit those locations periodically. Sometimes, cost and time can make this difficult, if not impossible. In such situations, another approach can be to rely on other routes like video conferencing with colleagues, or even making regular phone calls to build partnerships. Too often, we rely on email as our main means of communication, but basing all communication on email does not help build reliable partnerships. It’s hard to really listen to another person and his pain points via email. So avoid relying too much on email while working with colleagues across the organization.
Building partnerships across the organization with people that we usually don’t work with pushes us outside of our comfort zone.
It’s important to note that the same techniques can be applied to building relationships with your staff, as well as with your partners and colleagues. Being explicit about communication with people is important to build strong relationships and partnerships. You can never find success in this arena by being insular. So, step out, reach out, dive in, and partner with individuals inside and outside of the IT department. Just remember to bring something to take notes because innovative ideas and goals are built over time and rise from the most improbable conversations. With strong partnerships and teamwork, excellence is guaranteed to follow.