The Successful CIO: It’s All About Leadership

“They were all successful companies and they wanted to be a lot more successful. And they all had an ‘Ah Ha’ moment at one point in time in the boardroom—this is where we are, this is where we want to go, and we realize that we can’t get there from here without a world-class IT organization.

“In each case they had figured out their business model that they felt was going to be the winner. The (IT organization) we have is a far distance from there. Nobody’s happy with it. We’re leaking money. Customer satisfaction is way down and there’s a realization … the key performance indicators that will tell you if you’re winning in the various functions of the business but, by the way, every single one of them is dependent on fully-functioning, well-invested, high-performing IT. And, if you don’t have it, you better go get it. Otherwise you’re throwing good money after bad.

“So, in each of those companies, they had gone through those pains. They had realized we need a world-class IT. We don’t have it. We don’t have the leadership. We don’t know what we’re getting for our money—we just know where unhappy with it. So, they were ready to bite the bullet.”

Okay, so Trainer got with good companies that wanted to be better. This is table stakes in your game of Success. You still have to make good on your vision of what IT is, can be, and what it can do for your company. This is challenging, make no mistake. Even with a company’s leadership on board you will meet resistance—there is something like 23 different ways humans resist change. It’s is overcoming this human resistance, not the technical Snafus, that will, as it was for Trainer, be your most daunting accomplishment.

“You have the internal challenge within IT—you have to win the hearts and minds of the IT organization and have them, in many cases, change the way they’ve been doing things for 20 years. And overcome the human tendencies of the leaders you’re inheriting who say, ‘Why didn’t I get that job?’ and ‘Maybe I’ll just lay low until this guy leaves and maybe torpedo a few things’ and so on.

“So, there’s a natural resistance in the first six months to a year within your IT organization that you just have to be very strong and very honest and very direct and change what needs to be changed and change whoever needs to be changed.

“In the business, I think the far biggest challenge was putting in appropriate governance. Governance is a broad term but, if you boil it all down to a net-net-net, it is getting a commitment (and absolutely having it followed through) to work together, make investment decision together, manage projects together. Putting discipline in place where people show up for meetings … they’re participating, they’re bringing their opinions to the table and, if they don’t have an opinion, they shouldn’t be in the meeting. And once the decision is made, you get behind it and make it happen.

“Easier said than done and each culture has a different way of subverting it. You have to be aware of it and get on with it and do the job as a leader and show up as a leader.”

But, if you do, the rewards can be great. Leadership only comes naturally to a few. The rest of us have to learn. But, it can be learned. And that is perhaps the best part of Trainer’s message—that you do not have be pigeon-holed into “career is over” just because you came into the CIO’s job from, dare it be said, IT.

“The CIOs of today are still kind of making up as they go along to a degree. CIO relating to ‘Career is Over’ is alive and well. (But) … the body of validation is growing quickly now. I think as the CIOs move into the future there will be more help available.”

Other installments in the Successful CIO series:

From Tactical to Strategic: Understanding Industry is Key

CIO Update Q&A with UPS

CIO Update Q&A with Southwest Airlines

CIO Update Q&A with IBM