CIOs need to talk

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

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“Logical thinkers tend to think that just being good at their job is enough, and that the quality of their work will speak for itself,” says Everett. “The problem is, most people don’t understand that the more work you’ve put into a system, the easier it appears to them.” Like it or not, everyone has a personal brand and Everett has a range of practical tips to help CIOs improve their personal brand image in the company. (See box)

Communication is key

It’s not so much about branding, but about communication, argues David Miller, managing director of consultancy ITDynamics, which offers interim management to companies in need of IT leadership. “People can see through the ‘profile raisers’ these days, but it is still necessary to communicate more. There are subtle ways to remind people of your work.

More importantly, you can eliminate some of the negative elements that attach themselves to your work. Surly helpdesk operatives, for example, should be made to shape up or ship out,” he explains. “Don’t neglect to cultivate people, be proactive in finding out what their needs are and make sure they know that someone is listening to them. So spend more time speaking to senior people in each department, finding out what problems they have, what’s missing from IT and what issues are not being addressed,” he adds. “The chances are you do that already, but the trick is to make sure everyone knows about it,” says Miller.

Miller also advises IT leaders to formalise the process and make it a regular event by having a conference call every week, or a meeting. “It may be against your nature to grandstand, but it’s not enough to do your job, you have to be seen doing your job,” he says. As a consultant, Miller is often called into corporations to act as an interim CIO, before setting up the infrastructure for individuals he recruits to take over. Once a CIO has shown he or she has listened to all the board members and the senior decision maker, that platform needs to be built on.

“Develop a strategy for IT to support the business and a clear proposition for future business,” says Miller. “Then write this up as a report and present it to various interested parties,” he says. According to Miller, who has obviously refined this process over his years in the business, this should take you no more than two weeks and will act as an exhibition of your competence. If you work in a public-sector organisation, the principle is the same, but you may want to seek out the key stakeholders in the organisation.

A CIO is meant to be an information expert, so it helps if they are seen to be good at communicating. Instead of issuing bossy directives to users, try keeping them in the loop about developments. You need to keep communicating to users what you’re about, or they’ll soon lapse back into their comfortable prejudices about IT being run by geeks who prefer machines to people.

An intranet-based solution is one possible approach that makes information openly available for staff from a web browser. On the downside, it’s time-consuming and online publishing is a dark art that the IT department might not have mastered. A formal newsletter? There’s only one thing worse than a lack of communication, and that’s a tedious, expensive publication, that doesn’t communicate.

It’s a great trick if you can pull it off and could help get users on your side, but avoid the temptation to rush something out. If it’s bad, it’ll only damage your reputation further. Being recognised in the media works too. Colleagues who take your good work for granted may think differently if they see how an independent publication, or broadcaster, perceives you. A practical and less time-consuming method of communicating is to organise events.

You want everyone to see the human side of the IT department and its senior decision makers. Scheduled face-to-face meetings are always helpful, although you might need to offer some kind of event to facilitate interaction with IT. Consider offering free training.

Video is a fantastic medium for endearing yourself to people – but only if executed well. Most departmental heads and CEOs love making them, and as CIO you are ideally placed to flatter their egos. “There’s
increasing demand for personal broadcasts,” says Julian Phillips, managing director of Iocom, which offers a video-casting product to corporations. “If you can fulfil that demand, it’s a great way for the CIO to give people what they want. And now the YouTube generation is making its way up the corporate rankings, video is seen as a way of communicating messages.”

Finally, make sure you can back up your ‘vision’. “Leadership requires more than being able to point out the possibilities. That’s the easy bit,” says Jos Creese, head of IT at Hampshire County Council.

“The impossible is easy for he who does not have to do it.”

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