A CIO Always Has To Maintain Credibility

Credibility is hard to get and easy to lose in the world of IT
Credibility is hard to get and easy to lose in the world of IT
Image Credit: opensource.com

Quick question for you: if I asked someone that you know if you were a credible person, what would they tell me? I think that both you and I hope that they would tell me that “yes” you are a credible person. However, if I asked them the same thing about your IT department, what would they say then?

How IT Departments Have Lost Credibility

Over the past few years, there have been a number of very large scale projects that have had the IT department at their very core. When the need for these projects first showed up, the IT department saw the opportunity that they presented and stepped forward to play a leadership role by selling the rest of the company on the importance of information technology. Two such projects come to mind right off the bat: Y2k and ERP projects. The IT department told the rest of the company that these projects were critical to the very survival of the company and it got everyone to support the project. That’s when the problems started to arise.

The Y2k event (New Year’s day back in 2000) came and went and really, nobody had any significant IT related problems – even the firms that had not made the enormous investments in Y2k upgrades that other firms had made. This severely dented ITs credibility. The next major project was the wave of ERP projects that installed a single large program to run the entire company from top to bottom. Almost without fail, these huge projects disrupted the entire company as older applications that everyone was used to using were replaced with new applications that may not have been customized for. The end result of all of this change was that the company was thrown into disarray as the new monster program was installed and in the end, the benefits of switching to the new ERP way of doing business were never very clearly realized.

All too often what CIOs forget to tell the rest of the world is that not all of our IT projects are going to be run-way successes. Not every investment in an IT project will result in the company realizing a 10x payback within a short period of time. Just like with any other project that we deal with, IT projects can experience both setbacks and screw-ups that cause it to deliver much less than perhaps was originally expected. It’s what the person in the CIO position does when this happens that really determines how much credibility they have.

How To Gain Credibility For Your IT Department

Credibility is a funny thing. It can be very hard to get, it can take a long time to get it, and yet it can be so very easy to lose it almost overnight. This is something that many IT departments have discovered when they sold the rest of the company on committing time, energy, funds, and resources to a big IT project that ended up not really having much of a payoff. What the person with the CIO job wants to do when this happens is to run and hide, not talk about the project anymore, and instead talk about the next big thing that IT will be doing. This is the wrong approach.

Instead, what you need to do as a CIO is to acknowledge when an IT project goes wrong. You need to make sure that you don’t suddenly stop talking about them or delivering status updates on them to the rest of the company. Don’t even think about doing something clever with naming such as starting to call the project a “teaching experience” or just say that it has “issues”. You especially don’t want to try to pin the failure of your IT project on another part of the company. Instead, the correct thing to do is to lay out for all to see what went wrong on this project. Don’t run from it, don’t hide from it. Instead, acknowledge what happened and use it as a learning experience for your department.

CIOs have the job of attempting to communicate to the rest of the company just how important the IT department is and exactly what the IT department can do in order to make the entire company be more competitive. However, it’s going to be our credibility that will convince the rest of the company to go along with what we are recommending. This credibility is a very, very fragile thing. If we don’t take the time to make sure that we are constantly under promising and over delivering then we run the risk of ending up stretching the truth just little bit too far. This is something that our credibility won’t be able to recover from.

What All Of This Means For You

CIOs are in charge of the company’s IT shop. We do a lot of projects that benefit the company. Sometimes we even uncover an opportunity to do a big project that will fundamentally change how the company works. In order to get support for doing these projects, the IT department needs to have credibility with the rest of the company and it turns out that this is a hard thing to get and to keep.

In the past the IT department has told the rest of the company that the sky was falling and that the IT department was the only department that could do anything about it. Two very clear examples of this were the Y2k incident and the arrival of ERP projects. Y2k came and went without the forecasted disaster that the IT department had been warning about. Then ERP projects came and adversely affected the entire company without delivering the promised benefits. The credibility of the IT department has been damaged and it’s going to be up to the CIO to find ways to get it back.

Credibility is something that you can’t see, can’t touch, and in many cases can’t even describe. However, having it is critical to the successful operation of any IT department. It is the responsibility of the CIO to understand where your IT department stands in terms of credibility and then to always be taking steps to boost your credibility in the eyes of the rest of company.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: What would be the best way to find out what the IT department’s current credibility level with the rest of the company is?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As though being the CIO is not a big enough job just by itself. Now we remember that there is that whole mentoring thing that we really should be doing. When we remember to mentor, we generally grab somebody from our company’s IT ranks and then spend some time with them teaching them about the importance of information technology. Is it possible that we are overlooking what we really should be doing: mentoring people who don’t work at our firm?