As CIO of a mid-market manufacturing company, I’ve worked hard to establish my IT team as an important part of the business, working alongside Sales, Marketing, Operations, and Finance to reach company goals and grow in the market. It requires a deliberate effort to be viewed as a valuable partner and not just as a service provider or a cost center that needs to be minimized.
A big part of that effort involves communicating at the highest levels of the organization — the CEO, VP-level staff, and even the Board of Directors. For CIOs and other IT leaders who, like me, have come up through the ranks of technology-related jobs, establishing those peer relationships with the executives can be challenging. Not only does it require an understanding of the non-technical aspects of your business, but it also requires confidence, polish, and the ability to turn off the “geek speak.”
I sat down with Wayne Sadin, a friend and co-analyst in the Acceleration Economy Analyst Network, to pick his brain on this subject, as he has a great deal of experience from which to provide some valuable insights. I was not disappointed with the results and have compiled the interview into a series of articles that I hope will provide some guidance to those CIOs who want to take the next step in getting that “seat at the table.”
Kenny: Wayne, thanks for meeting with me to dig into this topic. First, tell us a little about your background.
Wayne: Sure, Kenny, it’s great to be talking with you today. Not only have I written about this stuff and spoken about it, but I have the scars from interactions with boards and C-suites going back 30-something years. My background is that I’ve been a CTO, CIO, and CDO, depending on the company. I’ve worked for companies in 8 or 10 different industries, mostly kind of mid- to mid-large market companies, and a lot of what I’ve done has been communicating between the IT function, the C-Suite, and the board.
Kenny: Perfect, that sounds like what so many aspire to get to. One of the challenges that I have experienced is that because I have technical skills, it’s easy for me to get sucked into the actual work of delivering the solution. I’m so busy working on the nuts and bolts of the technology that I don’t have time to be involved in the rest of the business.
Wayne: If you are at the point where you don’t have to, as part of your job, write code, then don’t write code. You, as the head of your IT organization, should not be in the production cycle. You should be above it, overseeing, mentoring, training, conducting classes; but don’t be in the critical path of supporting the day-to-day stuff.
Now, I’m going to say this: if you are not technical, if you are not keeping up with what’s going on, shame on you as well. You’ve got to be BS-proof. You’ve got to understand when somebody comes to you and says, I want to do this with the firewall, or I need this security thing, or this ERP thing. You’ve got to have enough knowledge and keep it up to date to say, ‘Well, what about this?’ or ‘We need to look at that as well.’
Kenny: Wow, that can be a challenge, especially in a smaller company with a small IT team.
Wayne: Well, the beauty as a CIO is you get to do whatever it is you want to do. If your staff is competent, you look at whatever is broken. You look at wherever the staff needs help. You may have a hole in your organization, so you step in, but you should not be tied to the daily grind. You are not running the change board. I hope you are not approving the code and moving it into production. You have people to do that. So, get them to do that and free yourself up to be the business enabler. Your value is not being the best day-to-day techie. Your value is being able to go between the technical folks who do stuff and deliver, and the business folks who have needs.
And so your first job as a CIO should be figuring out how to build an organization of any size, where the day-to-day is handled by folks who want to be you someday. And in return, you’re going to train them to be you someday. But meanwhile, get yourself out of that day-to-day stuff, be involved, be aware, be looking at issues. Have the right management reporting, but on any given day, focus on whatever it is that you either think needs your attention most or that, quite frankly, you want to learn about. Use this as an opportunity to teach yourself and hopefully teach your team or teach the business team.
Kenny: That makes a lot of sense, Wayne. This has been a lot of great information for someone who is in a CIO position, who has risen up through the ranks. There is a lot that could be learned from this in how to become a more effective CIO, how to get more engaged with the company.
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