CIOs As Leaders in Coronavirus Oubreak

Per the article from McKinsey CIOs are showing their leadership skills.  What are your thoughts?

Focus on what matters now

1. Take care of your people. The CIO’s first order of business is to take care of her employees. It’s important to acknowledge that people are focused on caring for loved ones, managing their kids who are no longer in school, stocking up on necessities, and trying to stay healthy, all while trying to do their jobs. This requires empathy and flexibility from CIOs.

CIOs are moving to provide flexible work arrange­ments—working remotely, in flexible shifts, and preparing for absences. One CIO recognized that employees working from home will be affected by school closures and quickly designed a backup support model for each essential individual. One global company has committed to paying employees who contract COVID-19 so they can take the time to get healthy without worrying over lost pay.

For those people who still need to come into work, CIOs have a responsibility to make the work environment safe. One company, for example, has created six work zones. People cannot cross from one zone into another. If someone gets sick in one zone, they can isolate it from the other zones quickly. At one European financial organization, leadership has organized shifts so that key leaders are not in the same room and has identified backups for executives and key managers.

That focus on people also extends to working with contingent workers and vendors, many of whom work on site. Another banking CIO contacted all vendors to ask where each individual had been physically during the previous two weeks, what they had been doing, and what their plans were for the following week. This helped him understand who was truly needed on the premises and who wasn’t, to reduce exposure for his own people.

A CIO’s success in helping their people through this crisis is likely to have a significant effect on employee loyalty and retention in the future.

2. Communicate confidently, consistently, and reliably. Uncertainty breeds fear and confusion. CIOs have to combat this reality by developing a crisis-communication program based on being transparent with both the C-suite and employees about what the current situation is and the steps being taken to address issues. Setting up regular briefings create a certain routine, which builds trust and con­fidence. Any delays to major deployments need to be planned for and communicated.

The “how” can be as important as the “what.” One CIO, for example, is texting the entire company with regular updates because he believes it matters more that the communication is human rather than coming from more “official” corporate channels.

Listening and learning are also crucial. Given how fast the situation is moving, the CIO needs to be the chief “learner” in these situations to help the rest of the group to keep getting better and better as things change. Just pushing out tech won’t work. CIOs need to prioritize reaching out to different stakeholders to understand their needs and the pres­sures they’re managing in order to provide the right solutions. In addition, CIOs should consider lightly surveying remote workers to understand what is and isn’t working to help refine capabilities and support levels.

3. Get beyond the tech to make work-from-home work. The sudden shift to employees working from home—one European institution saw its remote workforce increase by 15 times literally overnight—has created a host of issues, from inadequate videoconferencing capabilities to poor internet connectivity at employees’ homes. CIOs need to move quickly to advise the CEO and direct the company on how best to work remotely before every department goes off and picks its own collaboration tools. Many CIOs are already buying additional licenses and upgrading network to increase access. CIOs can address ISP capacity in employees’ homes by distributing 4G/5G modems or reimbursing upgraded internet plans.

In the end, however, tech is just an enabler. New ways of working require a culture change. CIOs can help to drive the cultural change by sharing best practices and providing effective learning sessions. They can drive testing and learning from different approaches and communicating them back to the business. Crisis management is a cross-functional game and the CIO is perfectly placed to facilitate the new way of working.

4. Drive adoption of new ways of working. As employees shift their work behaviors, many of them are confronting what can seem like a dizzying array of tools with little experience of how to use them effectively. As one CIO confessed, “ensuring adoption of new tools and protocols has been the most frustrating part of the process so far.”

New behaviors typically take about 30 days to take hold, so CIOs need to promote them assertively over the next month. As a rule of thumb, we’ve found that getting a tool adopted requires twice the investment of having it developed in the first place. So while it’s necessary to provide clear guidance on tools and routines (for instance, downloading necessary apps or using multifactor authentication), it’s crucial to invest in behavioral-nudging techniques, advanced training seminars, and certification to ensure that tools aren’t just adopted but that they actually help people do their work.

Role modeling is also an important way to influence behavior, such as communicating through collaboration tools, holding meetings on Zoom, Skype, or Webex, and asking every participant to turn on video. One CEO of a large pharma company has required everyone on video conference calls to “turn on” their cameras.