Oh I See! Getting CIOs to view their jobs from a different angle

Aug 19 2014   3:06PM GMT

One or many, how many?

Arun Gupta Arun Gupta Profile: Arun Gupta

Tags:
Leadership

“This is crazy but I am loving it,” so said a CIO who had taken on the mantle to transform the way his company uses IT. He had been in the role for a while and his company was one of the market leaders in their chosen industry; they needed a strong dose of really good medicine to shape up the information foundation. Business welcomed him with open arms, he showed them what was possible, he brought all of them together to the common cause; the company began the journey with multiple projects starting in parallel.

The roadmap drawn and agreed upon, the company created a healthy pipeline of initiatives that would leapfrog the reputation of the company and the CIO. His team rallied around him as they saw a future with promise of good days to come. They believed in the vision and toiled sweat and tears to shed the inertia that was the hallmark of the company. Projects rolled and went live building credibility and adding fuel to the fire of desire; the going was good and everyone loved the orchestration that created music they had not heard before.

Another CIO on the table retaliated with her wisdom of focusing on one project at a time and doing it very well with no window for error. She was a veteran herself though not the visible types but staying in the shadows of quiet achievement. Her journey was of incremental innovation staying close to business and efficiently focusing on getting it right eventually made her slow and dependable. Growing with time in familiar territory her rise was a story of “I will do what the business wants even if it is irrational and requires maintaining status quo.”

Working with a monopolistic market leader, there was no real pressure for majority of her career, the global enterprise driving strategy and direction while controlling local innovation in areas that mattered. The rest was about creating solutions that worked to digitize existing manual processes. She had toiled diligently and grew through the ranks doing a fair job of maintaining status quo. By virtue of the years in the company her understanding of the business was good and she had built empathy which helped her.

The two were a study in contrast in their approach to partnering with business and how they created value for their respective enterprises. It was a function of market dynamics as well as individual desire and capability to be a transformational leader. One demonstrated passion and a sense of urgency while the other was happy to be an order taker and wait for something to happen. The group of CIOs present took sides with many inclined towards aggression though most professed that a middle path is the best approach to staying relevant to the business.

A few years later many of us happened to meet again; reminiscences of the last discussion offered an opportunity to check how both had done. The transformation aspirant had slowed down a bit though he was still miles ahead of the conventional pace of implementing technology solutions. He had more or less delivered to promise with the organization struggling to keep pace with the fast track path they had chosen. He was satisfied with the change he had architected and the fact that his company was a much sought after customer by many IT companies.

The lady was struggling for survival, her company having been acquired, new set of expectations, new pace of change, new set of deliverables, all of which were alien to her. Her incremental approach was seen an unaligned to new business speed and the urgency to expand market share and dominance leveraging technology. She was unable to step up having lived a life of a passive though reasonably effective partner to the business. Having worked for one company all her life, she was clutching straws to save herself.

Our collective wisdom could only recommend that she seek alternative pastures before she becomes irrelevant to the company. Her shallow experience did not give her too many choices which she realized. Someone suggested to the aggressive CIO that he hire her to run the operations and business as usual which she was good at. Today most CIOs do take on multiple projects which is the need of the hour to stay relevant; it is a rare luxury to not do so and fraught with danger for the long-term. BAU does not require expensive resources.

Where are you in the continuum?

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