10 common mistakes CIOs can fall prey to

CIOs reaching for the stars

There was a time when, upon being appointed CIO, the IT professional had reached the apex of their career. That time is passing. A new breed of CIO has been born, one for whom the word ‘Chief’ in their job title is more important than ‘Information’. This new crop of CIOs no longer sees the top job in IT as the Holy Grail but a milestone on a longer journey. They are asking ‘What next?’ and with good reason. Because the new age CIO is uniquely equipped to take on the most challenging and critical leadership roles in business today.

Today’s CIO faces a broad spectrum of challenges that require business acumen, tech savvy, and strong leadership skills. It’s a tricky balancing act, but knowing about the pitfalls can help

CIOs run highly technical disciplines and usually come from technical backgrounds. Their strength is in knowing the details of IT work. This gains them respect in the eyes of their staff and enables them to discuss the details of projects. Nevertheless, IT management responsibilities have changed substantially over the past few years. As more IT processes become automated, CIOs must become more business-savvy. CIOs also need strong people, as well as good communication and other soft skills. In this new world, CIOs must embrace new roles. Here are 10 mistakes that can trip up the CIO if not addressed up front.

1: Practicing heads-down management

Technical people are task-oriented. They have a natural tendency to get completely immersed in technical problem solving. There is no room for heads-down management in CIOs — yet many continue to focus on the technical aspects of projects, forgetting about the people and the politics that can completely disrupt work. CIOs are the leaders of the pack and should be stimulating internal growth of skills and capabilities – challenging his or her staff to be the best. Walking the office floor and mixing with the business is a key function of the CIO.

2: Staying technical

Great CIOs resist the temptation to get into the technical details of IT projects. They understand that it is their job to ensure that the politics and business environment are optimal for projects. They focus on running the necessary interference for their staff to make conditions for success optimal.

3: Not checking project status

It can be difficult for CIOs to get out of their office and onto the “IT floor.” I remember one CIO I worked for as a young staffer. He thought our project was meeting deadline, and the project manager was telling him so, but the project wasn’t close. This project ultimately failed — but it might have succeeded if the CIO had done enough “management by walking around.”

4: Forgetting to praise

IT’ers (and their leaders) are committed to what they do. For most, it is enough to know that a job is well done. Still, everyone appreciates a little praise or recognition. Many CIOs don’t give it often enough.

5: Not communicating clearly about projects

One of the hallmarks of great communicators is that they make an effort to know their audience. They then find ways to communicate by using familiar terms. Coming from technical disciplines that use jargon, many CIOs must acquire this skill.

6: Not knowing the business

Many IT’ers go through their entire careers without ever working in the end business. Consequently, they have to learn the business on their own to make sure that their efforts are aligned with what the business needs. CIOs know this, but some fail to hone their own business skills — which is critical for building credibility with other executives in the organization.

7: Forgetting to forge key relationships

Relationship building with other executives and business influencers in the company is one of the most important things a CIO can do. It establishes a cooperative foundation for IT initiatives and improves the odds of project success.

8: Not being objective in Technology solution selection

There is plenty of risk in IT projects. This makes it easy for CIOs and other IT decision makers to fall back on vendors and suppliers they already know, even though they might not be the best solutions for the projects they’re working on. CIOs should be pushing all support staff to maintain objectivity when evaluating technology alternatives which will help CIOs keep their options open and approach projects creatively.

9: Failing to learn staff capabilities and limitations

Some IT’ers are experts in specific areas of IT, some are great with end business users, and some are journeymen who can succeed in numerous project roles. CIOs are ahead of the game when they get to know their staff members’ individual strengths and weaknesses. CIOs should be facilitating IT training to shore up any staff shortcomings and they should know which staffers are their go-to players and rising stars. When a CIO struggles due to an area of technology that is out of his/her comfort field then they should bring in Interim help to plug the gap and then skill up.

10: Micromanaging

When projects go wrong, it’s tempting to step in and start running them yourself, especially if you’re in a smaller organisation. But when CIOs do this, they neglect other projects and areas of IT that require their attention. CIO should be strategists and manage the political pathway in an organisation, they are not the Project Lead. A better strategy is to meet with project managers and help them get the project on track. As a last resort, you might need to replace a project manager for an interim to drive the programme to a successful completion — but it should be with someone else who can take the project — not the CIO!