CIOs Need To Know How To Build Bridges

You'll need a bridge to move from providing a service to being a partner
You’ll need a bridge to move from providing a service to being a partnerbr />Image Credit: JOHN LLOYD

So here’s a question for you: based on the importance of information technology, what is IT’s role in your company? If you are like most people with the CIO job, your answer will consist of you listing a number of different things that the IT department does for the company: keeps its servers up, installs new applications, protects the network, etc. However, there’s something wrong with that answer: you’ve just listed a bunch of services. That’s not what an IT department should be limited to doing. Instead, you should be a true business partner to the rest of the business. The secret is in how you get from here to there.

It’s All About The Foundation

One of the biggest challenges that people in the CIO position are faced with is that that IT department already has a relationship with the rest of the business. In order to create a deeper, business based relationship you are going to have to find a way to transform this relationship into the one that you want to have.

What you are going to have to do first is to find a way to build credibility with the rest of the business. All too often IT departments are known for making big promises and then not being able to deliver them – or not deliver them on time. If you want to move your relationship with the rest of the company to the next level, then you’re going to have to change this. What you’re going to have to start to do is to under-promise and over-deliver.

Ultimately the key to creating a strong foundation for how you interact with the rest of the business comes down to good communication. Sure, you know how to use email, but that’s the wrong tool for getting the rest of the business on your side. Instead, you’re going to have to make the effort to meet face-to-face with other leaders in the company. This is how you can get the IT department involved in solving the company’s difficult problems.

Relationships Require Management

Once you’ve created a solid foundation and the rest of the company is willing to work with you, your work is not yet done. Instead, you now have a new set of tasks: managing all of those relationships. Relationships are wonderful things, but they won’t grow and mature if you don’t work at them.

One way to start this management of relationships is to change the way that the members of your IT department think. Right now they are all probably in a service-based mentality. This means that they are focused on the next IT project that they’ll be working on. What you are going to want to do is to change this so that they are being measured by different metrics. Meet with other departments and find out what they want their IT department to be doing. Once you have this you can create a new set of metrics by which to measure the success of your department.

Your relationships with the rest of the company will change how the IT department interacts with the rest of the company. What this means is that as your IT team delivers what it has promised to it’s business customers, you’ll start to earn your spot at the company’s decision making table.

What All Of This Means For You

The time for an IT department to play the role of a technical support organization has come to an end. Going forward, CIOs are going to want their IT departments to become business partners to the rest of the company. In order to make this happen, they are going to have to become good at building bridges.

Reaching out to other parts of the company starts by building a strong foundation to base this relationship on. The best way to start to create this foundation is for the IT department to show the rest of the company that they can deliver projects on time and under budget. Once the foundation has been laid, the next step is for the CIO to start to manage the relationships with the rest of the company. Key to this is to create metrics that better reflect what the rest of the company wants out of the IT department.

Building bridges is not easy work. However, if the IT department is going to become a partner to the rest of the business, then the CIO is going to have to get busy. Taking the time to lay a solid foundation and to manage relationships will yield the results that you are looking for. Build some bridges and you’ll find that it’s easier to get to where you want to go!

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

Question For You: Which departments should a CIO start to build bridges to first?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

This CIO job never came with any instructions. Now that we have the CIO job, we are expected to know what to do, when to do it, and who to involve in doing it. I can only speak for myself, but I sure would like to have the opportunity to talk with someone who really knew what they were doing. Somebody like Ben Fried, Google’s CIO, probably does know what he’s doing. Maybe he’d be willing to share some of his insights with us…