High-performing CIOs: Mastering the language of peers, planning, and pace making are critical


In my previous blog post in this “High-performing CIOs” series, I wrote about CIOs getting into the driving seat of digital transformation and sharing their expertise and related technology with other parts of the business. 

High-performing CIOs are changing the way they interact with their C-level peers, talking about business value rather than just technology. They are aligning with other leaders to unlock the benefits of digital transformation across the organization.

CIOs are also increasingly becoming the orchestrators of the "Digital Dream Team," a concept I’ve been discussing with IDC. Led by the CIO, these are the new, key decision-makers across finance, HR, customer experience (CX), operations, and IT—and other business functions—that are driving the digital transformation agenda.  

This all sounds well and good, but why have we only moved this far? For many, the journey to true, enterprise-wide transformation remains in its infancy and there is great scope for improvement. 

The potential to make work more streamlined and meaningful across the organization is huge. 

Based on recent conversations with ServiceNow customers across EMEA, it’s clear that this comes down to four important points that need close attention if budgets, stakeholders, and technology are to fully align and execute on this transformation.

 

Driving change by coaching and involving decision-makers

Somewhat ironically, the challenge is not technology itself. Technology also won’t make things happen—people will. But people are often resistant to change and in many cases risk-averse. 

CEOs are driving the digital agenda from the top, but if they voice any concerns or do not lend their support, it’s unlikely any initiatives will succeed. Equally, it is important to build wider support by coaching and involving all key functions, such as HR, marketing, and CX. 

Also, good communication skills coupled with speaking the language of other functions help increase understanding and buy-in. This includes references to specific metrics or KPIs that, for example, HR, finance, or CX leaders use in their business areas. Inclusion is key. 

 

Securing the mandate

It almost feels natural that the CIO should be the one the CEO puts in charge of digital transformation. Indeed, in my conversations with our customers and partners, the feedback I most often hear is that it’s the CIOs and CDOs who are spearheading such initiatives. 

But the CIO’s mandate should not be taken for granted. Securing ownership of cross-functional change is extremely important and this also means acceptance from C-level peers to make (considered) decisions in the interests of the organization. 

It’s particularly important when we consider that 62% of budgets invested to support digital transformation initiatives come from outside of IT, according to IDC research.

 

“Pian piano, si va lontano”

The age-old Italian proverb emphasizing that “those who walk slowly, walk far” is something that I like to point out when discussing transformation. 

Big projects often fail, but by implementing change in small steps—or sprints, if you like—you can maintain a sense of controlled evolution. 

A step-by-step approach will also keep the CEO on board, who is unlikely to put their career on the line for the sake of a big bang, wide-scale digital transformation.

 

Making the case

If we take an example of digital transformation business planning in the UK public sector, the Institute for Government noted that “less detailed initial planning, taking risks, and then actively managing those risks through cycles of testing and learning” is key to project success. 

I also come across projects and business cases that are inadequate, in the sense that they are either too detailed or too vague and are primarily based on “gut feeling.” Striking the right balance between detail and high-level priorities will ensure business cases can be used as dynamic, live documents in any part of the business. 

When it comes to the digital dream team, I expect there are other relevant points to be made regarding the alignment of people, budgets, and technology to accelerate enterprise-wide digital transformation. 

But fundamentally, CIOs have an exciting, if not challenging, opportunity to lead this team of game-changers—mastering the language of their peers, planning well, and setting the pace will be critical. 

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