CIOs that are not confident communicators will not be able to become innovators for their organisations and will be relegated to a back office operational role, the CIO Executive Council, part of the IDG business that publishes CIO UK has found.

The IT Communications in Crisis study by the CIO Executive Council, a membership organisation of predominantly US CIOs, although it does have a global remit, finds the CIO role under delivering because of a weakness in communications skills.

The full report from the CIO Executive Council is available at the base of this article to CIO Plus members.

Members of the CIO Executive Council were surveyed for the Power of Effective IT Communications Survey between January 12 and February 28 of this year and 205 responded.

The survey concludes that: "The most challenging goal for IT leaders was building IT's brand as an innovator for the business."

Four reasons were cited by the CIOs responding to the survey for their ineffective communications:

1. A lack of communications resources
2. No knowledge of effective communications
3. They lacked talent
4. Historic lack of credibility for IT in their organisation

The CIO Executive Council found 59% of CIO considers themselves partly or completely ineffective at communications, an increase of over 10% since the same survey was carried out in 2014.

"Half of IT leaders believe that a lack of communication talent holds their teams back," the Executive Council suggests, adding the analysis that the responding CIO believe strong communications skills is an inherent skill and not one that can be developed.

Editor in Chief of CIO UK Mark Chillingworth says he understands why CIOs have this belief and it is not one restricted to IT leadership. "I have seen this same quiet person in the corner attitude in financial leaders, media professionals, academia and of course technology. However, I do believe, in part from personal experience, strong communication skills can be learnt and that strong technologists and business thinkers can become effective communicators. CIOs don't have to be George Orwell or Fiona Bruce, but they can learn to effectively put a message across."

Time to talk

Despite the misgivings about their abilities as communicators, almost half (48%) of the surveyed CIOs said they were not spending enough time on communications.

Worryingly, 41% of those surveyed believe their organisation does not see communications from the IT department as being important. With technology focused organisations such as Amazon, Google, Uber and Airbnb are disrupting once secure industries, not allowing the CIO to engage in, or invest in communications is a worrying statistic.

"Some 70% of IT leaders have not hired a communication director dedicated to IT," the Executive Council reports.

Additionally, the survey reveals that 61% of the CIOs surveyed have not trained or engaged with the organisations corporate communications team to ensure they understand the IT department and its story.

CIO UK Editor in Chief Mark Chillingworth says: "I see a similar problem in the UK. Transformative CIOs have a great story to tell of how they have delivered technology initiatives; or the central role they have played in the business meeting its business and digital challenges. Yet the corporate PR machine lives in fear and acts as an old fashioned gatekeeper that stops all communications taking place. Each year the CIO UK CIO 100 is blighted by this behaviour and it is the CIO and their team that suffers.  

"In the long run organisations will suffer from the behaviour by corporate PR departments as CIOs that cannot broadcast their success and describe the vision they have for their organisation will find it hard to recruit the talent they need for future development."

The CIO Executive Council adds: "The tragedy of the crisis in IT communication is that IT leaders realise acutely that it exists — but, by their own admission, they have been generally ineffective at driving new conversations with their non-IT peers. It is sadly ironic that the IT professionals tasked with implementing far-reaching, innovative technologies have, to a large degree, proven themselves to be so reactive within the currents of business change."

The communications crisis is not only restricted to CIOs, but the survey reveals the problem extends across their department as IT and non-IT teams fail to collaborate effectively, which they say is growing the lack of trust and corrodes the innovation. The CIOs responding to the survey believe their teams and direct reports suffer the same lack of communications skills.

With communications being a major issue for the CIO Executive Council survey respondents it is perhaps not surprising that only 3% of those responding view themselves as in a position to be change leaders for their organisations. The majority of the survey respondents described their role as service providers and partners, just 11% said they were a business peer. Worryingly 23% said they were a cost centre to the organisation.

"91% of CIOs contend that the CIO role is becoming 'more challenging,' and 85% claim that the role is becoming 'more important to the business.' The price of technological progress is ambiguity and disruption, and IT leaders of any stripe can scarce afford to tread water," says the Executive Council of the results.

IT_Communication_in_Crisis [pdf]