Analyst Outlook: How’s your credibility bank account?

Struggling to bridge the chasm between business and IT? You are not alone. This gap has been an issue for so long that you could be forgiven for wondering whether it would take some sort of superhuman to straddle it. In recent research, we set out to see if CIOs did need to be superheroes to leap this gap successfully, and if so, what their superpowers might be.

Yet after interviewing more than 30 CIOs, we found something else — you don’t need to be a superhero after all. Instead you must focus on building personal credibility; everything else follows from there. Credibility, it seems, makes anything possible, even leaping tall buildings in a single bound.

As a new CIO you inherit some of your predecessor’s credibility, like a dowry, especially if that person did a good job. But even if your predecessor did a terrible job, then the fact that you have arrived to save the day will be seen in a positive light, bestowing you at least temporarily with instant credibility even before your first actions.

Building your account

Successful CIOs view their personal credibility as a valuable asset. And building that credibility is like paying money into a bank account. Credits to the CIO’s account are made each time results are delivered that business colleagues care about. Withdrawals are made when deadlines are missed, things go wrong, or differences of opinions erupt.

Something we learned from our research is that you can do a lot to build your personal credibility balance more quickly. The most common way of driving up the value is to focus business executive attention on some aspect of superlative performance.

Now gaining the attention of busy and distracted people is not easy. Attention is relationship-based. A critical skill required when gaining attention is the ability to anticipate business needs. This flows from understanding how the enterprise works, and even how your executive colleagues are incentivized.

A good way to increase the value of the CIO’s account is to keep people informed. Open communication also allows you to overcome the “logic of resistance”, something that can block change and threaten credibility.

The “logic of resistance” occurs when an issue comes before an executive who has not been properly briefed. In such a case, the executive’s first reaction is to view the issue as unimportant: “After all, if it were important, I would know about it.” Executives will not place their credibility at risk by supporting something they do not know about, or do not believe is important. This combination leaves them with one course of action: resistance.

The terrible truth is that you can’t bridge the gap between IT and the business on your own. Like it or not, the CIO and the IS organization are seen as one and the same.

Yet IT was never the remedy for all situations — something our high-performer CIOs pointed out very clearly. Sometimes there’s value in restricting IT’s role in a particular organizational change. Credibility sometimes comes from knowing when to walk away.

So CIOs don’t have to be superheroes, able to leap the chasm between business and IT, to be a roaring success. Instead, the good ones are people who have built their personal credibility by hard work.

Personal credibility is a valuable asset in all walks of life. Start making deposits into your personal credibility bank account today.

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–Andrew Rowsell-Jones is vice president and research director for Gartner’s CIO Executive Programs.

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