CIO leadership fundamentals part 2: Relationships do matter

This is the second in a series of short blogs on the CIO basics from a practitioner perspective. First up was getting the CIO strategy properly defined and put in place. The next step is for the CIO to identify and develop the internal and external relationships that are essential for supporting and successfully executing on that strategy.

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.

Ultimately, the proper management of the core CIO relationships can either help facilitate great success or conversely lead to almost certain failure. Gone are the days of the CIO being able to do it on their own or being able to snap their fingers to get what they want when they need it. Today’s reality requires the CIO to thoughtfully and purposefully put in place the right structure, support mechanisms and internal and external relationships to collaboratively work together with all the key stakeholders to achieve the desired outcomes in as an efficient and effectively manner as possible. In essence, it should be all about the extended “CIO team”.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport
Gary is the President of the CIO Association of Canada (CIOCAN) which represents approximately 300 CIOs across Canada by growing IT leaders, speaking with one voice on issues facing CIOs and building a vendor-neutral community for the safe exchange of ideas and best practices.

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