Attention CIOs - Fire your Lieutenants, Figuratively

By Parveen Chander Aery, CIO, Ocwen Financial Corporation

CIOs who thrived being the hero of technology, swooping in to fix issues as they arise, may find it difficult to survive in the new reality. The fact of the matter is they need to work themselves out of this job. Tomorrow’s CIOs should be creating the future, not anticipating it.

The New Reality

Figure 1

Figure 1 depicts the challenge CIOs face. More time is spent in planningbut too little time is spent surveying the road ahead and influencing the direction of the company. A fundamental shift in how CIOs spend their time is in order, but how to make this happen?

Don’t Mentor Your Team, Fire Them!

Well, not literally anyway. One of the biggest issues CIOs face is alignment of their staff. Alignment comes easily when someone is first hired and they look to their boss for guidance and direction. But once functional managers learn the ropes and understand their domain, they tend to define their own goals and objectives. Endless time is spent on course correction.

"Cognitive IT Intelligence is an idea whose time has truly come. And the journey is going to be fascinating!"

One way to end the chaos - figuratively fire your lieutenants at the end of the year and have reposts for their jobs. This requires them to stop everything they are working on and “renegotiate” objectives and the resources required to achieve them. Most resources are spent doing activities that get very little scrutiny. Regular, business as usual activities need to be challenged frequently. By essentially rebuilding the team each year, inefficiencies will be teased out and be on the table for discussion.

Let Your Leaders Lead

Functional managers often look up the organization for decisions, or to determine the bounds of their authority. They look to define what decisions they can make vs. what decisions require approval. However, this approach often leads to managers deferring the ownership of decisions as well. If it does not work out, well that was the boss’s call, not theirs. This essentially pushes work up the chain to do the work necessary to justify investments, rather than the other way around.

If strong alignment is in place then day to day management of the IT function can be pushed back down the organization. This means allowing managers to step up and take ownership of their functions, without letting the decisions made higher up be used as justification for not achieving the progress expected. Rather than acting on someone else’s authority to achieve their goals, managers need to influence the organization toward their point of view. They need to earn support of their ideas, not have someone else mandate them. In other words, give managers no formal authority and make as few decisions as possible at the CIO level.

Lead Business Strategy

Technology more and more determines the business companies are in, not the other way around. Did Uber ask prospective customers how they wanted to hail cab service? Did Google ask customers if they wanted driverless cars? No they did not. The technology of the future is being created not by asking what prospective customers want, but by imagining the future.

Instead of creating atechnology strategy, CIOs should be creating a 3-5 year business roadmap in conjunction with the strategy office.

Read the Weak Signals

Weak signals are by definition disparate snippets of information that individually have little meaning. CIOs often spend time reading and attending conference to keep up on the latest trends. The only problem with this approachis that someone else is connecting the dots. The value in weak signals is in the processing of that information and CIOs are well suited for this task. They understand better than anyone about the implications of technology on their business.

Social media is the most often pointed to as the go to source for weak signal information. But spending hours each week surfing for weak signals provides only a single source of information. Better yet, CIOs should be out talking to customers, staff, and other executives. Ask a lot of questions. Talk very little. Weak signal are often not documented in a meaningful way but reside in the minds of people around us.

What are the implications of this changing landscape? The skills that made CIOs successful in the past, and may have earned them the title in the first place, are not those needed for future success. Traditional CIOs are a dime a dozen. Truly innovative CIOs are not technology leaders at all. They are leaders in their respective businesses. CEOs and boards will begin to expect more from their CIOs than updates on technology. CIOs not adapting to the winds of change may just find they are the ones being fired, literally, not figuratively.

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