C-Suite Relationships: How CIOs Can Make Their Mark
Building relationships is more important to the CIO’s role than ever before. To make a real impact, it has to be. But let’s get one thing straight: if you’re defining “building relationships” as asking your peers what they want from IT in the next fiscal year, you’re doing it wrong.
If you see your job as CIO primarily as enabling other business functions, you’re not leading. Just the opposite: You’re actively taking your hands off the strategic wheel. (Does the CFO ask managers if their budgets are big enough?)
CIOs have ultimate responsibility for both day-to-day IT functionality and transformative initiatives—but with only so many hours in the day, we have to focus on the big picture: understanding what the business is trying to achieve, then optimizing IT to achieve it. “IT as a Service” to the business functions only takes us away from that priority.
My mandate as CIO of Informatica is clear: We’re trying to double our valuation from $5 billion to $10 billion. To do that, we need to shift to a subscription business model. And to make that shift, we need to change all the processes and applications that drive the company’s core operations.
That is my job.
Doing my job well requires me to maintain good relationships with other executives—and as the two-way arrows in the above graphic indicate, those relationships can’t be one-sided. Digital transformation is a team effort, not just a matter of other C-level executives telling the CIO what to do.
As IT supports other functions’ ideas and goals, other functions have to support IT as well. That’s how to keep goals and strategies in alignment across the company and create an overall transformation that drives business success. Relationships between executives are the input, not the output.
Building effective relationships
You’ll know you’re building effective relationships when IT is contributing to strategic discussions because your peers expect you to contribute at a high level.
For example, Informatica’s marketing focuses on the buyer’s digital journey, which requires a lot of collaboration with IT. So Informatica’s chief marketing officer, Sally Jenkins, invites me or one of my leaders to any discussion that involves a change in marketing strategy—not when marketing has already decided what to do, but at the start of the discussion, when IT’s input can help shape the strategy for maximum success.
And in my experience, relationships of that caliber start on day one. Actually, they start before day one. From my earliest conversations with our CFO, Doug Barnett, we agreed that Informatica could be a great place for me. But I couldn’t be sure until I met all the key executives and operations people. I needed to see strong relationships across the business, based on mutual respect and aligned goals, to be sure I could be a successful CIO for Informatica.
Meeting key peers and team members is a vital ingredient to helping you decide to take on a CIO role. Then, on your first day, you have to start building those relationships—not by learning the technology, but by understanding the processes and business goals the tech serves. That’s what proves your worth in high-level discussions.
Don’t forget what really matters
Misalignment happens all the time, especially in companies that are innovative. Companies that are innovative, by their nature, are going to try to improve everything. Even if the thing that they’re trying to improve doesn’t really matter. Too often, the filter that people apply is merely, “Is this a good idea?” Which leads to this approach: “Let’s get all the good ideas and try to sequence them in order of priority.”
That’s how companies end up discussing whether they need a new web conferencing system that’s incrementally better than what they already have—which isn’t going to do much for the company’s goal of doubling its valuation.
To keep everyone on track, I need to understand the business, make strategic contributions accordingly, and be clear on the business impact of those decisions to my peers.
In my next few posts, I’ll be digging into the most critical CIO relationships and how each drives digital transformation in unique ways—starting at the top, with the development of the CIO-CEO relationship.
My goal is to guide you in transforming IT’s role from partner to the business into a core part of the business—aligned, like every other function, to the highest-level goals of the enterprise.
In the meantime, let me know how you’re building relationships across the business, breaking down silos and creating lasting change. We’re all in this together!