The CIO is a difficult role. If you are one of the 46 percent of Global CIOs that report to the CEO, your peers are the other executives in your company. None of them understand information technology sufficiently to offer specific and detailed advice on the complex problems faced by a CIO. It is worse for CIOs who report to other C-level executives. (Read my recent CTN article for more details.)
CIOs know this businesses that need a CIO role on their executive team cannot operate without information technology. Not everyone on the executive team understands this fact and some of your peers will actively resist big data, automation, and other efficiencies that could help. You need help to counter these sentiments in a creative and open-minded way.
Another challenge to the CIO role is that information technology is complex and ever-changing. This means the CIO is unable to sit back and relax. How can you understand the changing dynamics of information technology?
A Transformative Possibility
Done well, information technology implementations can transform companies. Therefore, companies place significant expectations on the CIO and information technology team. How can CIOs stack the deck in favor of successful technology projects? If you do this one thing, you can become a better CIO.
To help address these challenges, I recommend finding a trusted external peer group of information technology experts. I have been involved in one for the past 2½ years and it has transformed my understanding and execution of my role as a CIO.
Here are the specific benefits for me in my peer group:
- We comprehend one another’s problems with greater depth and understanding.
- We each bring our own experiences and there is significant overlap because it is an information technology peer group.
- We develop vulnerable trust so we can ask for candid feedback which leads to personal growth as leaders.
- Although we live in the Information Age, human interaction and collaboration cannot be replaced by more knowledge. Each member of the peer group is a multiplier of wisdom and insights. For example, my peer group has 150 years of collective experience, and this is 7x my personal experience of 25 years.
How to Find and Build your CIO Peer Group
To find and build your trusted external peer group, follow these three steps:
- Determine the format – Some CIOs would prefer to have 1:1 meetings with their peer group. This will work. The only downside is that you can lose the magic of collective conversation that happens when there are three or more people. If you do have group meetings, do you want to meet quarterly or bi-annually (or some other cadence)? Maybe a combination of 1:1 and group meetings will work?
- Work four channels – It may be helpful to visualize your outreach efforts according to channels. Here are four that make sense to begin:
- Industry Events – This is a great option because the format is usually in-person. Be selective about which ones you attend and ask for recommendations. I avoid any sponsored events (where some entity will pay your expenses) because I think this helps avoid questions on ethics.
- LinkedIn – Search for CIO and Information Technology leaders that appear to be engaged on this site and therefore are likely more prominent and more social. Compare a couple dozen CIO profiles and you will see patterns emerge. From these patterns, target those who intrigue you.
- Authors – Many CIOs write books, articles, or blogs for industry websites and magazines. Generally, this indicates a willingness to share experience, knowledge, and wisdom.
- Peer Groups – Some groups, such as CIO Mastermind, can shorten this time to build a peer group. They do require membership fees and they organize everything which saves you time and effort.
These three key points apply to all channels.
- Be brave – My wise father used to tell us kids, “My best friend was a stranger before I met him.” I understand that many CIOs probably profile as introverts so be brave when asking for help to build a peer group.
- Be intentional – When you reach out, be intentional and genuine. Explain what you are doing, why you specifically chose this person, and what you hope they would bring to an external peer group. Understand that people you ask may be uninterested (or too busy) and may not respond.
- Follow up – Continue to follow up with your list of intriguing peers until you have found 3-5 people who are willing to join you!
CIOs do not have to journey alone. Start today and build your trusted external peer group, and you and your company will receive tangible benefits almost immediately.