We all know a CIO's job isn't just about technology. It doesn't matter how far up the executive ladder they scale, to a certain extent they still have to be managers – whether that's managing a team of IT specialists, an ERP rollout, or even the expectations of their organisation and customers.
So what management skills do CIOs need to bring to their role? Here at CIO UK, we thought we would canvass the opinions of a variety of senior executives and employment specialists to see how they think CIOs should be approaching the likes of training, recruitment, project management, new deployments, team building, staff motivation, and so on.
Tobias Andersson, COO of Projectplace, sums up the difficult situation facing many CIOs. "Their stakeholders often comprise different generations with very different needs and expectations – younger employees who grew up with an iPhone in their pocket and older employees who are about to retire and might have only recently – and reluctantly – adopted IM," he says. "The challenge is how to manage this massive gap, meet everyone's needs and ensure that all generations can work together while creating the technical foundations for commitment. The younger generations will not be impressed if you make them use complex legacy software that requires hours of training and can only be accessed on a PC. They want simplicity, usability, visibility, feedback functions and a feeling of belonging – all key features of social media."
When quizzed about the different managerial approaches that need to be applied to a specific IT team and the organisation in general that it serves, Dan Russon, services director at Xceed Group, is adamant there should be no fundamental difference. "While the types of personalities CIOs will be dealing with will be different, the methods taken to manage these personalities can be consistent," he says. "That said, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' management style and CIOs should be prepared to adapt their communication and influencing styles to the audiences they are dealing with."
To achieve this, Russon's advice is for CIOs to develop and manage a stakeholder map. "This can track their employees' agendas as well as their personality types. It applies to business stakeholders as well as the IT professionals, and could take the form of a formal psychometric tool, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator - a questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions - or a model developed in house. Ultimately, the key to effectively managing different personalities is to understand them. By addressing others' agendas first, CIOs will find it easier to gain support for their own."
It's all about keeping your eye on the ball, says solutions architect David Borkin at SumTotal Systems. "Any organisation is going to have employees with different preferences for ways of working," he says. "A CIO should be able to accommodate these simply, but it's important to be able to keep track of employee details, such as responsibility areas, contractual and finance information, such as bonuses or review periods, progression, what device they use and where they're based. And CIOs should be providing technology that in turn helps managers track employee progression, training needs and individual objectives in one easy-to-view system."
This means Borkin advocates having a single integrated system to manage HR updates from disparate sources to help to streamline the CIO's role as well as aid managers throughout their organisations. By integrating data from across a company, he believes CIOs and other managers will be aligned in their approach to HR processes and motivating employees.
So what about hiring those employees in the first place? "When it comes to recruitment, it's vitally important that CIOs recognise what 'good' looks like in their organisation, says Russon. "Every company has its own culture and measures of excellence, and a superstar in one organisation can be a horror show in another. At Xceed, we use a people framework that identifies company-specific rather than role-specific attitudes and competencies. CIOs should also aim to hire candidates directly and through referrals whenever possible, as the statistics clearly show that these methods yield the best-performing employees."
In forming a training strategy for those employees, Russon suggests it's easy for CIOs to focus too much on development areas or skills needed. "Unless these skills are absolutely essential for employees to perform their roles, I would argue that better results will be gained by focusing on maximising their existing strengths. If a CIO has built a truly diverse workforce, they should still be able to find the required skills within their organisation."
Trying to maintain that diverse and high-quality workforce or IT team is about recognising that technology moves at pace and arguably faster than most other disciplines, says Eddie Kilkelly, managing director of insynergi, a provider of bespoke training, coaching and mentoring support for all levels within an organisation. "As a result, succession planning becomes more important, as not only may staff move on (as they will in any department), but their skillset may quickly become redundant," he warns. "It is not always possible to re-skill existing staff (and lead times may not allow this), particularly if they are still required to support older legacy systems while new architectures are delivered, and so a rotation of staff will be inevitable."
This can be a blessing in many cases as technical staff generally like working with new technologies and this can be a real motivator, says Kilkelly, before adding: "Building high-performing teams requires close attention and balance. A team that is heavily biased towards one personality trait is likely to have a blind spot and so a selection of complementary styles is essential. Engaging the user community in project work in key roles is also important, as this will reduce the potential for conflict later. Similarly, effective communication can share the big picture and avoid unnecessary distractions."
It's a point expanded on by Xceed's Russon. When rollouts, new system deployments or in fact any change is being considered, simple and effective communication is paramount for managing the change. "This should ideally begin before the new system or solution has even been confirmed. If users are involved in designing the solution – or at least how it is used – this can go a long way towards ensuring its successful deployment," says Russon. "This will also diminish the temptation to add 'spin' to communications down the line and help retain the authenticity of the CIO's message."
Russon also advocates CIOs establish a master "plan on a page" which is highly visual and easy to understand for both technical and non-technical employees. If this tool is kept up to date and frequently shared, it enables employees to literally 'see' the progress that is being made. "When it comes down to the practicalities, too often testing and user adoption are overlooked or left too late," he adds. "Beginning both early in the process can vastly add to the success of any new implementation. CIOs should stop thinking of training as something that is done at the end of programme; rather they should engage users in the process from the outset and treat user adoption as a critical work-stream. The same principle applies to testing. Involving testing experts from the outset will help shape the programme and vastly reduce the time spent on rectifying issues, bugs and defects later in the process."
Projectplace's Andersson makes the crucial point that it's also no longer enough to only look at change internally: "While some changes might be internal, the CIO also needs to include key third parties in the change process, such as customers, partners or vendors. This piece of the puzzle is often missed, which is why some changes fail to be implemented successfully."
This need to see the big picture and maintain operational inclusivity is taken up by Sarah Sandbrook, HR director of T-Systems: "The biggest issue facing CIOs today is the agile, blended workforce. Ten years ago the typical IT workforce was made up of 80% direct employees and 20% contractors. A CIO could step outside their office and see the people working for them. The acceleration of nearshoring, offshoring and third-party contracts, such as outsourcing, mean that today only about 30-40% of the people working for a CIO are direct employees.
"Therefore the challenge is creating a cohesive workforce with a single set of values and a focus on the customer (when many of the people working for the CIO will view the CIO as the customer rather than the ultimate end-user). In this environment, old-style man-management competencies are no longer as relevant. CIOs need to manage the way the workforce is blended, get the mix right, and ensure the mix works to a common goal."
It's a lot to take on board, but those CIOs that do get the managerial mix right will be more than just good managers – they can rightly call themselves "enablers", concludes Andersson. They will have created an environment where everyone can work together in a way that allows for the exchange of ideas, values know-how and nurtures commitment. Now that's the mark of a great CIO.