Creating the CIO Executive Success Cycle

Effective CIOs are part of the executive team setting the agenda for their enterprise.

As part of our research agenda, we worked with the leading executive search firm, Korn Ferry International, investigating how 30 top IT executives from around the world set their leadership agenda. From these interviews we identified the “CIO executive success cycle”.

The CIO executive success cycle comprises four habits that intertwine both personal and business performance: shape demand, set expectations, deliver and lead.

Habit 1: Shape Demand

A key part of the CIO’s role is to shape and manage informed expectations, in effect, to shape demand. Successful CIOs position themselves so they are engaged in discussions about mission-critical developments. They are part of the enterprise business agenda-setting and this then feeds into their own leadership agenda.

You need to know the business so you can recognize what is and isn’t critical to business performance. Talk to your fellow executives in their language and about things they care about. Identify the key business cycles and investment climates.

More importantly, your executive colleagues must perceive that you understand the business.

It is critical to know each member of the executive as an individual. One way to start is to recruit an internal mentor – who can then open doors for you.

Habit 2: Set Expectations

Once you understand the demand, you need to negotiate delivering it. This involves the second habit of setting expectations.

To identify trade-offs you need to know and to communicate IS’s capacity to manage and deliver IS services. Then you need agreement on business-driven architectural design needs. To avoid misunderstandings you must ensure that expectations are clearly understood by both sides.

The message from our CIOs is clear. Negotiation with peers and the CEO is part of an ongoing process, not a single event.

Habit 3: Deliver

All the interviewed CIOs emphasized, “What’s expected of a CIO is to deliver, deliver, deliver.”

To deliver in fast-paced times you need to address shifting business needs by fostering partnerships and using architectures and tight timetables to change how IS performs.

As part of setting their leadership agendas, effective executive CIOs achieve shorter milestones by “chunking” programs and projects into bits that can be delivered every 90 days.

Effective CIOs are able to set aside their ego – or they will find themselves set aside! Roy Dunbar, CIO of Eli Lilly says, “Be prepared to hire someone with twice your IQ, if that’s what it takes to build a partnership with your business customers.”

Habit 4: Lead

As CIO, you have a unique perspective across the enterprise to spot opportunities and to solve business problems. So leading is the fourth habit.

IS leaders are not afraid to challenge the way an executive thinks about IS. Initiating change requires relentless pushing, cajoling, hassling, threatening and pleading in equal measure.

The higher the profile you take, the more vulnerable you become and the more criticism you will attract. Things always go wrong with technology. CIOs need to be comfortable with their own capabilities, and not take comments personally.

You can’t use edicts or positional authority with your peers or the CEO. Instead you must rely on persuasion and relationships to influence outcomes. Don’t ignore difficult people – they might be right! Even if they aren’t, they can be very disruptive.

If successful in achieving each of these four habits, CIOs will find themselves able to impact their business executives. This will reposition them back at the first habit, shaping demand. From there it is a constantly revolving cycle.

The cycle gets easier once you have been around it a few times, but that is what it takes – learning from experience and persistence as you shape demand, set expectations, deliver and lead. It’s worth pondering – where are your strengths and weaknesses around the four habits of the executive CIO success cycle?

Dr. Marianne Broadbent is Group Vice President and Global Head of Research for Gartner’s Executive Programs.