Special Report: What Should Today’s CIO Really be Managing?

As a CIO or leader in your organization’s IT department, you’re managing many things: the company’s network, numerous technical projects, and (hopefully) a talented group of IT people. But you’re also managing many other important things including the perception others have of IT; constant change from outside forces; how distracted you and your team are on a daily basis; and many other things you may not even be aware of. For many people, these “other” things are just part of the job, how things have always been done, and the expected stressors of business.

But do they have to be that way?
Let’s start with perception. The fact is that managing perception is just as important as managing reality. For decades, the perception of the IT department, the CTO, and/or the CIO was that they were the technical backend. Even though we in the technology business know better, the fact is that many people in the organization viewed IT folks as “plumbers”. In other words, the job of IT was to make sure everyone knew how to turn the equipment on and off, to ensure there were no “leaks”, and to keep everything in working order.

In recent years, however, that perception has begun to shift. Through hard work on IT’s part, we are now seen as a strategic component of the organization that enables it to do things that are seemingly impossible and to gain new competitive advantage. IT now has a seat at the top decision making meetings in the organization. IT not only enables strategy to happen, but we also provide opportunities for new strategy to shift. However, not all the perception shifts are positive, which is why leading the IT department is challenging.

In the past, everyone in the IT department, from the newest employee to the CIO, was viewed as an innovator – as the people leading the technological change. In the process, they often brought the rest of the organization kicking and screaming into the present and the future. Even though the executives and employees wanted new features and functions, they complained when they got them. The organization and its people simply didn’t like change, yet they desperately wanted change. IT led them through the change.

Now in the last several years with distributed computing, cloud computing, and powerful home computing systems, the challenge is that the organization has the perception that IT is holding everyone back, keeping the company locked in the past rather than jumping into the future. How is this possible? Well, every level of employee, from the mailroom clerk to the CEO, is able to go home and use a multitude of cloud-enabled tools, from Google and Yahoo to Facebook and Twitter. But then they go back into their company, and depending on the size of the organization, they don’t have access to the technology they use at home. Yes, IT is concerned about security, and all these new technologies open up a giant can of worms. But the more you try to keep the worms contained, the more people view you as holding the company back.

Take a good, hard look

So why is managing perception important? Because perception is often more important than reality. And, in fact, your reality will not be a happy one if you’re not managing perception.

You’ve likely seen many examples of how perception is more important than reality. For example, a stock might be beaten up horribly because of the way people view the company, whether that view of the company is accurate or not. The opposite is true, as well. Consider what happened in real estate recently. Home prices went much higher than they should have because the perception of the home’s value was much higher than reality. This led to a real estate bubble, which, as all bubbles do, burst.

So the point is that perception is something you have to constantly mange. Whose perception? Everyone’s: from the C-level executives, the employees, the competitors, and most important, your own. Therefore, ask yourself, “How do I perceive myself?”

Do you perceive yourself as trying to keep up? Trying to protect and defend? Trying to integrate the new?

How you perceive yourself is going to reflect how others perceive you. So you need to perceive yourself and everyone in the IT department as a major competitive advantage and as a major strategic asset for the organization. As long as that’s how you perceive yourself and your team, that’s how you’ll act, and that’s how others will see you as well.