CIO leadership fundamentals: Relationships do matter – 2nd in the blog series

The second step in covering CIO Basics is identifying and developing the internal and external relationships that are essential for supporting and successfully executing the strategy that was articulated in the first step.

One way to approach this aspect of the role is to look at it from the “stakeholder relationship model”, which means putting the CIO in the middle of the picture and then proactively assessing the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities of each of the core relationships around the CIO as embodied under the generic titles of “reports to”, “peer of” and “direct reports”. It works something like this:

1) Reports to: Obviously the CIO needs to manage to the requirements of the “boss”, most probably being the CEO, or perhaps the CFO or COO. Beyond the immediate “boss”, the CIO also needs to be cognizant of the Board of Directors expectations and building a meaningful connection as much as possible. Of course, ultimately for most organizations, the real “boss” should be the organization’s customer, so the challenge is to ensure that the CIO is closely aligned with the needs of those customers and to make it central to their operations.

2) Peer of: The other C-suite members are the most logical definition of “peers”. Establishing a mutually beneficial “give and take” relationship with each of those peers can often mean the difference between success and failure for any CIO’s strategy. Ideally getting those peers on side early, or alternatively discovering that you have someone who is going to get in the way, can be very helpful in plotting out the plans and next steps. Other “peers” of the CIO that requires attention should include the senior executive sponsors of the strategic suppliers, the academic related relationships as embodied through local business schools and universities and the industry peer groups like the CIO Association of Canada.

3) Direct Reports: Depending on the size of the CIO’s team, this is where a majority of time will be spent ensuring the right structure is in place along with the right mix of business, technology and leadership skills. Often this is a problem area as the organization structure and culture may not be conducive to the changes that are really required to achieve the CIO’s strategy and drive successful operations. There is an old adage that states “strategy should drive structure”, which is something that some CIOs seem to get mixed up with very convoluted structures lacking clear accountabilities. It is very important to get this aspect of the puzzle properly sorted out for productivity of the finite resources and for the long term health of the organization.
This blog also appeared on the ITWorld Canada website