Mirror, mirror: Six Ways CIOs Can Polish Their Image

Neil Barton’s clients are rarely happy to see him. “When I’m called in, it’s usually because the IT department is seen as dysfunctional and the image of the CIO is tarnished,” says Barton, a senior consultant with Compass International, a global management consulting firm specializing in IT performance improvement for Fortune 1000 organizations, including such clients as Ford Motor Company, American Express, Ericsson and Volvo.

On the surface, says Barton, the problem is simple, at least in the eyes of the CEO: the IT department is either underperforming or costs are out of control. “Every CIO confronts the question, whether implicit or explicit, ‘Why are we spending more for IT and what are we getting for our investment?'” In many cases, Barton admits, the IT department he’s asked to analyze is slipping in relation to relevant benchmarks – outsourcers or other companies in similar industries.

CIOs as seen by CEOs

The main roles of the CIO, according to CEOs:

  • Provide systems to support business strategy,
  • Keep users and managers satisfied,
  • Run an economical IT operation,
  • Build a sound IT infrastructure,
  • Introduce relevant new technologies
  • Educate the CEO on IT trends.

Source: The World IT Strategy Compass Census 2000

Yet even CIOs who do meet targets are often perceived as underperforming, Barton says. That’s partly because, unlike most other executive positions, CIOs must serve more than one master – all of them non-technical users. According to a survey Compass conducted last year, the majority of the 400 CEOs polled considered “keeping users and managers satisfied” among the CIO’s top three priorities.

No wonder one sour anecdote can deflate your ego and cause the CEO to look your way askance. We all know that the squeaky wheel gets the oil – all the more reason to exert some elbow grease and polish your profile. Managing your image is always important in business. But in these tough times, it’s especially important to counteract negative anecdotes with some positive spin of your own.

  • 1. Communicate user satisfaction
    “In poll after poll that we’ve taken over the last 10 years, the grass-roots user satisfaction ratings are astonishingly high – between 80 and 85 percent,” Barton says. “Frequently we’ll hear application developers say, ‘The users hate us’ but in fact the users will say, ‘We like them but they’re only available six hours a day,’ or ‘They do incredible work — but we wish they were in the same city.'” The CIO should obviously call attention to the underlying business problem — but he should also leverage goodwill to improve the image of his department. One way is simply to survey users as Compass does.

    Another CIO found an even more creative way to measure user satisfaction. Every time his engineers are dispatched to solve a technical problem, they leave behind two cards — red and green. If the user is happy, she drops the green card into interoffice mail. The feedback he receives provides positive ammunition to counteract negative anecdotes. His gambit also works as a marketing ploy to define himself as a fun, proactive leader who cares about satisfying his customers.

  • 2. Develop your “personal brand”
    In these tough times, it helps to stand apart from the crowd. The “holy trinity” of any brand -whether a product or a person- is consistency, clarity and authenticity, according to Robin Fischer Roffer, president of Big Fish Marketing Inc., in Los Angeles.

    Authenticity means being true to yourself and your values. After all, just being yourself automatically sets you apart from others. Take some time to identify your core values and then ask yourself two key questions: How do I act out my key values every day? How do I deny my value system? “Credibility – doing what you say you’re going to do- is extremely important,” says Art Data, vice president of IT at International Truck and Engine Corp., in Warrenville, Ill. For Data, credibility is a core value – and because he refuses to oversell, he has earned a reputation for always delivering more than he promises.

  • 3. Use benchmarking as a communications tool
    Another way to improve your reputation, says Barton, is through service-level agreements, which allow the CIO to deliver against a predetermined benchmark.

    Use Benchmarks To Your Advantage

    Benchmarks can be an excellent communications tool and a way for CIOs to
    polish their image with senior management. Key metrics for desktop include:

    • Percentage new desktops delivered on time
    • Resolution time for customer problems
    • Hours of on-site support
    • User satisfaction survey ratings
    • Dispatched desk-side support time to resolution by priority

    Source: Compass International

    In addition to user satisfaction ratings, other key metrics include percentage of new desktops delivered on-time, hours on on-site support and resolution time for customer problems.

    “Benchmarking can be a very powerful communication tool in counteracting the squeaky wheel,” Barton says. “Sure, everyone grumbles when you have an outage. But if your agreement stipulates no more than two outages a month, you’re still delivering ahead of expectations, which puts you in a strong position with other executives.”

  • 4. Become an internal consultant
    Tired of the outsourcing threat? Start treating users like customers. Compass helped the IT department of a large U.S. automaker develop a “services catalogue” that showed users and managers what could be delivered, at what cost and at what level of service. “The catalogue clearly communicated to internal customers that the IT department could deliver infrastructure products and services in a competitive manner,” says Barton. At the same time, the brochure was elegant and inventive, which reflected well on the CIO and gained visibility for IT across the entire organization.

  • 5. Push value front-of-mind
    The answer to the question “Why are we spending more for IT and what are we getting for our investment?” may be to reframe it. “It’s not the total IT spend that the CIO should be accountable for -and that is meaningful to the business- but rather the unit cost of IT,” says Barton. “For example, a unit cost-based approach allows the CIO to say to the Board: ‘Yes, IT spending is up by 7 percent, but the business’ use of IT resources is up 13 percent. So we’re ahead of the game.’ Framing the question this way allows IT management to demonstrate that it’s delivering more bang for the buck than ever before.

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  • 6. Trust your unique talents
    In her book, “Make a Name for Yourself,” Roffer suggests identifying five key attributes that you wish to accentuate to bosses and colleagues. Don’t limit yourself to the usual qualities associated with your job, such as “analytical.” Think outside the box by scouring your personal life for memorable talents such as energy, inventiveness and athleticism. Form an ad hoc focus group of friends and family, who can be an excellent source for identifying skills that you may not have thought of. For example, one IT manager was surprised to find that his wife considered him a good communicator. Accordingly, he looked for opportunities to make presentations and speak out at work. His eloquence earned him a plum role on a key project and he has since moved quickly through the ranks at his company. The endgame: influence how others perceive you and develop loyalty to your personal brand.

Eva Marer is a freelance business and technology reporter based in New York. She covers investments, personal finance and corporate technology issues for a variety of trade and consumer magazines. Contact her at [email protected].