Information Technology Takes C-Level Support16 Sep, 2009 By: BY Stephen E. Lipka imageSource
Information Technology Takes C-Level Support
At the top of most organizations, including your dealership, is the CEO, who
is responsible for leading the company in the right direction. Generally, they
seek better company-wide performance, and this typically includes information
technology. But there are several personality attributes that C-Level execs
typically display, which can affect their motivation and decision making. Let’s
look at two:
Strategic planner vs. not
If your CEO believes in strategic planning for the business, you’ve got a
free pass to find out what’s important. The critical words here are “believes
in.” A true advocate puts strategy and execution plans in place, measures
progress against them, keeps them current, and rewards contribution to
achievement. For these leaders, achievement of the plan is what matters. For
you, the CIO or IT Director, building an IT strategy and plan that supports the
organization – and executing to it – makes for a happy CEO. On the other hand,
if your CEO is a “fair weather” believer (and that includes those who pay lip
service to strategic planning) what matters varies according to the interests of
that individual. The extremes are minimizing cost (“IT is just a cost center”)
to innovation (“IT is a meaningful influence that will lead us into the
future”). Unfortunately, you’ll have to figure that out on a case-by-case-basis.
Worse, you may have to stay tuned as the CEO’s priorities change.
Do what I say vs. do what I do
We’ve all worked for leaders who want an unlocked laptop on which they load
all kinds of untested software but complain when the machine crashes. A more
pragmatic group of leaders will accept what you give them, inquire about
technology that interests them, ask you to test it, and suggest making useful
technology part of standard issue. The former values personal productivity or
cool technology and may also value immediate gratification; the latter values
There are other attributes of CEOs, but these two should give you some
guidance on what could matter to them.
Not quite at the top of the organization but at the heart of most decision
making, is the CFO. CFOs focus on money. My experience leads me to conclude
there are two kinds of CFOs – those who think of money as something to be
retained, and those who think of money as a tool to get more money. The former
is likely to focus on cost reduction and low bidders. The latter is likely to
entertain investments for IT but will also expect an ROI analysis showing
positive expectations. I’ve actually discussed this with a few CFOs, and they
agreed this is in the CFO’s DNA. CFOs of either kind don’t cross over to the
other side. You may succeed in motivating both with cost-cutting ideas, but
innovative investments will not likely be readily received by cost-focused CFOs.
So why are these two officers of the company appearing under “Your Boss”?
There’s a high likelihood that you, as IT Director or manager, will report to
one of these. (The COO may be a lot like the CEO, but more operational.) This is
a hugely different stakeholder, and for this we have evidence. A Forrester
report developed from a 2008 survey showed that CIOs who worked for CEO’s were
more likely to have projects focused on innovation, while CIOs who work for CFOs
were more likely to have projects focused on cost reduction. Again, CFOs think
of money first.
Know that you or most senior managers leading sales, marketing, engineering,
manufacturing, or service want to maximize the productivity of their
organization with better automation. They are paid to produce, and if your
technological support helps them reach that goal, they’ll be pleased. But don’t
expect them to be happy about paying for the supporting technology, particularly
if they don’t understand how it supports them, how the cost was allocated to
them, or why they had no choice.
So how, as their technology provider, can you support them better? First,
learn their language and terms, understand the critical factors that lead to
their success, and understand how they contribute to the overall business. If
you don’t do this, you can’t speak convincingly about how or why technology will
help them, and you will be unable to truly understand the relative effectiveness
of alternative technology and support choices.
Your peers will be seeking resources for their own projects, so any attempt
to divert resources to IT – directly or indirectly – will be measured against
your peers’ standard of “what’s in it for me?” Speak their language. Have them
vote on IT direction. It’s unlikely you’ll motivate them by forcing “solutions.”
And of course, get C-level support.
As individuals, users are not literally stakeholders in IT, but taken as a
whole, they are indeed. Ask users what about IT is important to them, and
chances are the answers will include: “IT has to make my work easier;” or “My
machine (or the applications I use) can’t break;” and “When something’s broken
or I don’t understand it, I need help fast.” As a whole, then, what’s important
to the user community is productivity, even though they don’t say that. You can
gauge this with user satisfaction surveys, a stand-in for the productivity
The quest for productivity has another side, however. Users and small
organizational units have the urge to build little applications in Excel or
Access, or to use cheap or free consumer technologies for business purposes.
Some studies show that users are increasingly taking over technology projects.
Speed of deployment matters to them; corporate red tape doesn’t. Few users are
motivated by corporate security and data integrity concerns. If this is the case
in your organization, you can satisfy by institutionalizing this approach:
Provide architects, project management training, and guidance on compliance
Finally, on a personal level, many younger users care about collaboration,
social networking, blogging, and related technologies. Satisfy these individuals
by enabling such technologies for use within the company and the outside world.
Of course the likelihood is, you’ll need the support of your C-level executive
Excerpt from “Know Your IT Stakeholder!” by Stephen E. Lipka, PhD, CMC, a
Principal of Avatar Strategic Partners, guiding clients through better use of
information technology; 34 years in management, consulting & product