CIOs need to talk

CIOs that don’t communicate and promote themselves might end up being undervalued by leaders


In March, a celebrity business speaker was booked to entertain an audience of CIOs in Amsterdam. He worried it would be a tough gig for an audience that would be hard to warm up. “The CIO is a troubled person at the moment,” he explained, “Many of them think they may be losing their jobs.”

Personal Branding

Lesley Everett, managing director of branding consultancy Walking Tall, advises executives on raising their “personal brand”. “It’s important because often people are brilliant at their jobs, but present a poor personal image,” says Everett. Here are Everett’s tips on how CIOs can push themselves.

1. Keep things simple. Sometimes your presentations and input in meetings can be confusing if there’s too much technical detail.

2. Stick to your absolute key points. Edit your presentation down to the bare bones and adopt the dictum that less is more. It’s better to have people asking for more information than watching them lose interest.

3. Think in pictures. Most people learn best through visualisation. Paint verbal pictures. Explain concepts with diagrams. Edit out all the jargon unless you have an audience that’s impressed by that sort of thing.

4. Consider building in stories and anecdotes to illustrate key points – “a funny thing happened on the way to the boardroom” – that make your narratives much more interesting for an audience. This allows you to project something about you and shows your willingness to engage and connect with the audience and get your points across.

5. Remind people of your business acumen, or they’ll think you are “just” a techie. Keep meeting with them and reminding them that you are aware of their concerns and have schemes to help overcome problems.

6. Dress sharply at all times and ditch the facial hair. Studies show us that a majority of people never associate beards with management!

7. Don’t forget accessories – the laptop case, briefcase, overcoat are all part of the image you project. Arriving for meetings with clutter suggests a cluttered mind.

Not in the conventional sense of redundancy. It’s just that their role and influence in the company is changing dramatically. For the worse. Their job title might be chief information officer, but some feel they’re increasingly treated like glorified datacentre managers.

A recent Economist Intelligence Unit report suggests that most CIOs don’t even get the final say on technology purchases in the boardroom anymore. The chief financial officer does that now, while the poor IT strategist is tied up with security and compliance regulations.

How did it get to this? Some think IT directors should never be forgiven for the billions that were lost in the Y2K fiasco. “At boardroom level they’re now asking questions,” explains Greg Day, a security analyst for McAfee, who commissioned the Economist study. “They say ‘we keep giving the CIO all this money. When are we going to see any feedback?’”

The dot-com bubble didn’t help matters. Preposterous IT industry campaign slogans, like IT doesn’t support the business, IT IS the business didn’t win many friends. Especially not for the blameless CIO, who became the focus of the understandable resentment this hype created. If there’s an IT expert on the board of directors these days, there’ll be several people wanting to kick them off.

Tug of war

According to Andy Mulholland, the CTO and technology trends watcher for consultancy Capgemini, the average CIO is being pulled both ways. “On the one hand, their energies are being channeled towards rather mundane back-office duties, which pleases the auditors and keeps everything compliant,” he says. “On the other hand, they’re expected to be creative, and lead on business strategy. But the work that keeps the CFO happy takes precedence.”

And so the role of today’s CIO is more about cost cutting, control and compliance, and less about the roles that may have attracted them to the job in the first place, such as planning and strategic innovation.

“If they want to innovate and lead, they’re not getting it done,” says Mulholland. “We found there’s been a massive difference between what CIOs said they planned to do at the start of the year, and what actually transpired at the end of the year. You can be a creative or a cost cutter, but it’s a difficult juggling act to be both,” he says.

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