I have been asked on many occasions what does it take to become a CIO, IT Director or Head of IT? While the title may vary the pillars that are critical to one’s success are not.
For me there are 5 interlinked areas:
1. Business Acumen
It is important that the CIO understands the business. What are the pain points? What impact does a technology upgrade have on the business? Is the IT system creating unnecessary steps in the operations of the company? The bestselling author John Gray who wrote the book Men are from mars and women are from venus could be extended to describe the relationship between IT and the business – we speak a different language! Therefore it is critical that IT understands how the company operates and what they can do to maintain a competitive advantage. This means a fundamental understanding of finance, marketing, operations, human resources along with company specific functions. At a more strategic level do you know your company strategy and how this fits into the eco system of the business world? For many IT professionals who have progressed from Engineer to Manager this skill is extremely difficult to master. Training or shadowing colleagues in other departments have greatly assisted my development in this area.
Do you have a technical background? If so that’s great but remember deep dives into the finer technical details are not required and can be damaging. Firstly your team should be the technical experts and secondly you do not want to undermine their autonomy, so delegate! You are not fulfilling your role if you cannot leave your team to get on with the task. What you need is a fundamental understanding of the technology. Or more importantly what it can do for the organisation. But you do not need to know what buttons to press! Another important point in maintaining your high level technical knowledge is to ensure your team can be challenged and coached through the task. This is where the antenna of evolving technologies are detected and assessed for you requirements. I find attending conferences and discussing with peers outside of my organisation invaluable. However you must develop the skill to assess each technology on how it would benefit your organisation and not be consumed by flashy presentations.
3. Communication & People Skills
Am I approachable or do people avoid me? It is critical that people find you approachable. Not only does this reduce shadow IT but it also means people believe you can help them. Your job is to resolve conflict and to find a way forward by working at all levels of the organisation. In other words you must be able to collaborate with all stakeholders. Can you empathise with people? People skills are also critical for your team and third parties. Do I know how my team feel about their roles? Do they have a career path? Are they confident enough to challenge me? Remember most good ideas come from your team and not you! Do you know your management style or would you dread a 360 review? Another critical people skill is to create the team with the right blend of knowledge seeking and operational staff. This concept can be extended to third parties where a relationship of trust is generated to create a win-win scenario.
4. Administrative Skills
Oh the joys of budgeting! Well yes it’s fun especially when your budget is linked to other functions and business initiatives. However administrative skills are more than just budgeting. Defining IT policies and procedures are critical not only for smooth operations but also for the ever increasing need for compliance. Time must be found for the boring tasks of planning, procedures and scheduling. Measuring your team’s performance is important but you need to measure the right things. In my current role first contact resolution and our ePOS system uptime are vital for our shops. While terms such as KPIs, uptime, stage gates and the array of ITIL terms are invaluable you must add substance to these concepts.
A motivation to be a CIO is certainly critical. It requires greater responsibility and you will be representing not only your department but also your company at a higher level. You need to enjoy managing people more than solving technical problems. This is where the change in power moves from technical to managerial – achieving results through others. For me I enjoy meeting new people. Remember you will not always get it right but need the confidence to accept speedbumps along the way. You must be aware of you management style. I have completed many emotional intelligence tests (EQ) to gain a deeper understating of my personality type. Obviously I would not recommend you use this as the only barometer. Another area that is critical is culture. As Peter Drucker the renowned business thinker once said “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Knowing your leadership style is futile if you do not understand the culture you operate in!