Att: CIO: Stop doing, start listening

There’s nobody like you. What sets you apart from all the others is that you have a unique set of skills and knowledge and experiences that nobody else has. You’ve used all of these to rise to an IT Leadership role. You’ve seen it all, and have had lots of successes.

When a client approaches you for a solution to a problem or to help them find a way to meet their needs, you have the drive and energy to turn all that skill, knowledge and experience into an optimal solution for them. You got this.

When the client begins describing their needs or their problem, your gears engage and you begin to come up with the perfect solution. Their description of their needs and ideas begin to fade into the background for you as they begin to repeat requirements or perhaps offer conflicting requirements. You begin to piece together what they need.

Then you have it. You will use the perfect cloud, social, or big-data solution. You know exactly what will work for them.

But you got it wrong.

The things that makes us so effective at our jobs: our skills, experience, knowledge and drive, are the very things that keep us from devising the best solution for our client.

We stop listening too early. At the point where we hear conflicting or repeated information, we stop listening and begin to create a solution. Consider this chart:


Now if we had spent just a bit more time listening to our dear client, we would have had much, much more information, and come up with a much, much better solution.

Although, this is truly an art, not a science, here are a few tricks to help you listen longer to bring you closer to the optimal point for solutioning (that is, the point where you have most of the information you need):

1. Don’t Fill Silences. It may take your client some time to articulate their problem or needs. Let them fill the silence with more information. Remember that they are trying to translate a complex set of requirements into something you can understand. Make sure they know you want to hear what they have to say, and are willing to wait.

2. Repeat what you know so far. Clients will be very patient if you describe what you think you have just heard. You will keep the discussion going, and keep yourself engaged in the learning, and not in solutioning just yet.

3. Ask about edge cases. Learn about how your client wants to deal with the situations that are out of the ordinary. Are these out-of-the-ordinary cases frequent?

4. Ask about the solutions that have already been attempted. You can be sure the problem or opportunity isn’t new. You can learn a lot about if you understand the efforts that have already been applied, either manual or automated. What worked, what didn’t?

Do you have any tricks or techniques to make sure you are at the optimal information gathering point? I’d be grateful if you shared your thoughts and ideas in the comment section below.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Stephen Abraham
Stephen Abraham
Stephen Abraham is the CIO and IT Director for the Medical Council of Canada, the organization that issues Licenciates for Physicians practicing medicine in Canada. Mr. Abraham has been a CIO for a decade. He has made many mistakes during his 30 years in IT, and has learned a few things along the way.

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