5 Reasons Your CEO Doesn’t Trust You

Face facts: CEOs do not trust CIOs. To them, a call from the CIO is like a call from their auto mechanic. Before he hangs up, the CEO knows he will be pressured to spend money on something he doesn’t understand but probably needs. He’s just not sure why.

What’s a “valve job”? What’s a “migration into the cloud”? He or she probably doesn’t know but they know the price tags are steep and they suspect that neither end users nor drivers will see a dime’s worth of difference.

That is a lot of mistrust.

But, to be effective, a CIO needs to win over his CEO – and there is a secret for doing that. First, however, know the five reasons the CEO mistrusts the CIO in the first place:

1. “For many CEOs, IT is no more part of the business than the electric company or the bank,” said Norman Harber, CEO of Leverage Corporation, which helps companies cut their IT spend. Added Harber: “Very few CEOs believe that the company could function without IT any more than it could function without power or financial services, but many still feel those services, and IT, are provided by utilities or vendors who are not really part of the company.” Put bluntly, the CEO sees the CIO as an outsider … but, wait, it gets worse.

2. The CEO does not see the CIO as a credible business partner , said Shawn Banerji, managing director and co-leader of the Technology practice at recruitment firm Russell Reynolds Associates. Why? The CEO did not get to CEO caring about technology for technology’s sake — never forget that — but, sadly, CIOs frequently do. And they lose the CEOs attention right there.

3. You never highlight the ROI, said Banerji. Accept this reality: In 2011 ROI is king. Any plan that lacks it is going nowhere. You cannot persuade the CEO if you don’t talk ROI and most CIOs lose their CEO by never digging into what matters, that is, the ROI of any proposed IT initiative.

4. “For many CEOs, IT remains confusing and alien,” said Harber. And often they’ve had negative experiences (frequently with a help desk) that still taints their view of CIOs, said Harber. Not only don’t they trust CIOs they may actually dislike them. Ouch!

5. Accept that IT typically disappoints the CEO, said Rich Pople, IT practice leader at consulting firm The Hackett Group. Hackett Group research is chilling: “IT projects are delivered on time in only 76% of cases. Only 83% are on budget. In almost 40% of cases, projects don’t deliver the expected benefits. The CEO thinks, almost half the time when the CIO tells me something will happen, I am not going to get it,” said Pople. If you are skeptical about the depth and pervasiveness of CEO distrust, read Pople’s numbers again because this is the clearest case for continuing doubt.

But there is a way to turn it all around, maybe not in an instant, but over time and the way to start is to deliberately and consciously build support among and relationships with other C-suiter’s, usually starting with the CFO, suggested Greg Baker, CFO at IT consulting firm Logicalis.

“CFOs are paid to be skeptical. Often the CEO will check in, ‘Hey, Greg, what do you think about this idea?’” Get the CFO backing your ideas and you are on the fast track to winning over the CEO.

Bring in allies to do it for you, and you cannot have a better supporter than the CFO.

The CFO just doesn’t see matters your way? Fair enough. Line up other C-suiter’s. Lately, chief marketing officers have become big backers of IT spending. Enlist them in helping to persuade the CEO. The bottom line is that rarely will a CIO going it alone persuade a CEO to embrace a major and expensive IT initiative. When there is broad support throughout the C-suite, however, the CEO will almost always go with that flow.

Then, the real test for the CIO starts, suggested Baker. “What finally wins trust with the CEO is your track record. You establish that day by day.”

Deliver on promises made today and winning approval tomorrow will be that much easier. It gets easier still the day after if you have continued to deliver. “It takes three times longer to regain trust that is lost than to win it in the first place,” said Baker. “Trust is earned penny by penny. You earn it over time.”

But when you have it, you have it. And watch the CEO’s support blossom.

As a busy freelance writer for more than 30 years, Rob McGarvey has written over 1500 articles for many of the nation’s leading publications from Reader’s Digest to Playboy and from the NY Times to Harvard Business Review. McGarvey covers CEOs, business, high tech, human resources, real estate, and the energy sector. A particular specialty is advertorial sections for many top outlets including the New York Times, Crain’s New York, and Fortune Magazine.