Posted by: Arun Gupta
CIO soft skills, How to sell to business, Leadership
I am beginning to discover new benefits of drinking wine; apart from being a social icebreaker with people discussing the merits of Merlot over Shiraz or the lineage of the grapes and the geography, it also opens up their heart with the cup of woes flowing over with gushing speeds. I was party to one such conversation with a well-known CIO who had scraped through challenging times and was drowning his sorrows in the red. And thus the saga unfolded.
He had joined a diversified conglomerate as the Group CIO; most of the companies within the group had mid-level IT heads who now reported to him. He was expected to bring synergies and efficiency across the companies while taking the IT agenda forward to the next level. The group itself had aspirations to grow manifold over the next 3-5 years and believed that IT can contribute to expediting the journey. Everything looked well set for the CIO to capitalize on and forge ahead.
The group had humble beginnings and had tasted success with some of the new ventures that brought it to prominence. Expanding global presence, the founders had begun to hire professionals to run individual businesses as well as leaders like the CIO to drive the corporate agenda. Collectively the team was tasked with bringing to life the strategy and goal. The recipe thus appeared to be what would achieve the stated objectives.
The seasoned CIO got started by meeting the business and functional leaders, understanding their key drivers and opportunities, and within a span of 30 days charted the IT agenda and roadmap. It had all the components of internal efficiency that could be gained with technology standardization as well as connected some of the initiatives with the external end customers. Commendable progress noted the family who owned the business.
The next 30 days had some of the initiatives getting off the ground with participation from business and IT stakeholders. The larger investments needed discussion and debate on the selection of solutions as well as partners who would deliver them. Everyone had a view on how they wanted to make the selection and everyone had an opinion on what should be prioritized. The CIO attempted to moderate expectations without success. And that is when things started going haywire.
Over the next 30 days the power struggle continued with no one wanting to give away, each holding their ground; the CIO in his righteousness and professional pride believed that he knew how to run with the critical projects. The business leaders believed that they knew the business best and the CIO should yield to them considering they have to finally deliver the business outcomes. The owners left it to the group to take a decision not wanting to be the arbitrator.
As the status quo continued for some time, patience wore thin and the level of exasperation grew; in the next quarterly business review meeting they orchestrated a show down. Most of them updated the respective family members of their discomfort and the decisions they were hoping would prevail. The CIO did not have this connect and neither did it cross his mind that he should work with the majority owners to achieve what he believed was the best outcome.
In a stormy meeting the CIO quoted from success within and outside the industry with his proposed solutions and why his path was the best way forward for everyone. The business leaders refuted the claim and chorused the CIO’s limited knowledge about the culture and business. The Chairman had to react and he did what was obvious; he took the path that the CEOs had advised him of rebutting and chastising the CIO for not listening to his customers.
The CIO had a devils choice; he could accept the verdict and get started or he could refuse to bow to the decision and move on. His stand had created a deadlock; his abrupt manner and straight talk had alienated the business. The superior attitude ensured rejection of the proposals giving him limited options on the way forward. He believed that others did not understand technology neither did they respect his experience.
We know the CIO should have tactfully managed the relationships first selling his ideas to become the choice of solutions and vendors. The politically incorrect situation was self-created and this dawned upon him in our discussion after a few drinks had been downed. I am not sure if the self-revelation was too late to make amends or he had the opportunity to go back and change the direction. He thanked me and left. I am curious on how this unfolds, keep watching this space.