Achieving Trust In The C-Suite

Joe Tenga, CIO, Evocio
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Joe Tenga, CIO, Evocio

As you already know, members of the C-suite are responsible for making and carrying out the key decisions for an organization. As such, there is no denying the importance for the Chief Information Officer to firmly establish himself as a valued member of this team.

What about you—are you a valued member of the team? Sure, you are the company CIO and you are part of the C-Suite, but are you held at arm's length from key strategic and budgetary decisions? If you are part of that group of CIO’s who feel like they are on the outside looking in, I have something difficult to ask you…

Does the rest of the C-suite trust you?

If you are an in a position of IT leadership, particularly if you are a new CIO, there is significant tendency for other members of the Executive team to think less of you than you do of them. Or if you want to think of it the other way, they trust CIOs less than they do each other.

But why? Well, CIOs and the people we lead often come with some “technical debt”, if you will. I have had my share of interactions with members of the C-Suite and I would like to share a few observations that perhaps you may see in your own IT organization- and possibly yourself. Play along as I ask you these questions…

Is your "fit” debatable?

IT people are, well, different. It’s ok to be a bit different. But remember you speak a different dialect than the others, using words and acronyms that are unfamiliar. Perhaps you are a bit uncomfortable in social situations. You probably don't process or communicate information the same as others. Explaining what went wrong in Production yesterday in terms that everyone can understand is still a challenge for you. For some, sitting at the table next to you, these can call into question whether you really fit in with the rest of the C-Suite.

Is your focus suspect?

If you ask the CEO or CFO what their objective is, they will likely recite some version ofthe company's mission statement, as well as mention maximizing shareholder return on investment. And they would be right to do so. But if you ask the average CIO what their objective is, theirs will likely be a well-intentioned but misguided response regarding how they provide the technology services to the enterprise or that they deliver the flagship product, etc. The successful CIO will have the same objective as his peers… to fulfill the company's mission and delivering business value in all its forms.
Also, putting together a sound technology strategy is great, but it is no longer good enough to just look at a problem through the technologist's lens. You need to view things from a myriad of perspectives: the customer's experience, investors' expectations, marketing and sales teams’ requirements, regulators' demands for compliance & security,  the CFO's Cash Flow concerns, employees’ perception, and on and on. At Evocio, our consultant CIOs focus on addressing our clients' concerns around Cost, Security, Compliance and User Experience from a variety of Stakeholder's views. If you demonstrate a limited point of view, you will be considered siloed in your focus and unaware of what it takes to run a business.

Is your loyalty in question?

You are an “IT guy”. You wear that badge proudly. You are a skilled Information Technologist with years of tactical and strategic experience. But don't forget whose team you are on now. If you advocate the requests of your IT staff (salary, work from home, etc) without careful consideration to what is best for the organization as a whole, you open yourself up to attack from the other members of the C-Suite. Be prepared to justify every proposal with demonstrable added value to the organization. Anything that is less breeds suspicion and calls your motives into question.

Are you allowing fear to flourish?

Typical business executives are not trained in the way of Virtualization, Cloud Computing, Mobile technology and the Internet of Things. They have no way of evaluating for themselves the reasonableness of your technology choices, staffing requests, costs and project timelines. Get ahead of their reasonable doubts by offering independent assessments of your Security, Compliance and Technology initiatives to put them at ease. Also, whenever utilizing vendors, get quotes from multiple sources to demonstrate fiduciary responsibility.

Do you exercise “verbal discretion”?

Don't disclose the contents of conversations that are understood (implicitly or explicitly) to be strictly confidential. If someone starts a conversation by saying, "I have something to tell you, but don't tell anyone", I stop them to ask if I really need this information to do my job or if it’s just a gossip. I have received numerous confidential divulgences in the past regarding corporate financial conditions, impending dismissals, board member conflicts, legal proceedings, etc. Eventually it became impossible to remember what details I was supposed to know and what I was not supposed to know. Remember, careless disclosures cause office drama, it can even get you or someone else fired, or something even worse if you are a publicly traded company (pronounced jail time).

Is your project track record abysmal?

It has been my observation that technologists are imaginative and enjoy the creative process- to the point of exclusivity. So they fail to properly account for other aspects of the project lifecycle such as planning, testing, documenting, training, and deployment. As such, they tend to be poor estimators of project scope and duration and consistently deliver projects late. Members of the C-Suite tend to get frustrated by what they can't control. You aren’t helping your case in any way if you are frustrating your teammates. If you have a poor track record with projects, get out in front of it and ask for help.

Are your employees alienating others?

IT people tend to be among the brightest, most highly sought after, best paid workers an organization employs. With this, there is frequently a sense of elitism that permeates the IT group. I have even seen a technical employee berate a non-technical employee for their ignorance in using desktop software. That kind of behavior leaves scars on people, and in turn, systemically injures the relationships between IT and other business units. It is imperative that as the leader of a technology organization you demand from your staff an attitude of respect and partnership toward other teams. Never tolerate an environment that allows an "us" versus "them" culture to flourish. It is demoralizing and reflects poorly on your leadership.

Do you communicate with your team?

The C-Suite will draw their own conclusions in the absence of information from you. If you don’t ever provide an update on that big project, they will assume it is coming in late and over budget, even if everything is going great. Don’t delay reporting status to the C-Suite when things are going bad either, waiting for conditions to improve so you can look good in front of everyone. That being said, make sure you are always prepared to answer your teammate’s questions. You might put together a portal that provides figures that address the most frequently asked questions about your operations- typically Status and Performance figures. Sometimes the questions are more strategic, so be sure to have a documented strategic plan.

Conclusion

Trust is gained over time. It can be hard to break into the inner circle of the C-Suite members already there. Honesty, reliability, discretion, integrity and communication will help  you get there. But if you want trust and respect, you need to earn it.

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