No, you really do need a CIO…and now!

For those that follow my writing, this post may have a familiar ring to it. Unfortunately, there is a reason I’m writing about this yet again as the point still eludes many.

The curious case of Acme Inc

Take a recent example for Acme Inc (company name changed). Acme is a mid-sized organization without a CIO. I spoke with the CEO and another member of the executive team that were trying to solve tactical technology and information problems on their own. In this case, Acme is experiencing solid growth of 50% CAGR. They believed they were being strategic in their technology decisions. The truth was far from it. It was painfully apparent they were way out of their wheelhouse, but didn’t realize it. In a way, they were naive that the decisions they were making were locking them into a path where, near-term, the company would not remain competitive. But they didn’t know that. They were looking to solve a technology problem to support their immediate growth trajectory without thoughtfulness of the opportunity. They were also relying too heavily on their technology providers whom they believed had the company in their best interests. Unfortunately, this is not a fictitious story of what could happen to a fictitious company. It is a real situation that occurred with a real company. And sadly it is one of many.

Trust is incredibly important in business today. There is no question. But as one mentor once taught me many years ago: Trust, but verify. In the immortal words of Deming “In God we trust, all others bring data.”

What is a CIO?

What is a CIO and do I need one? This is a question that many chief executives ask as their business evolves. I addressed a similar question about the CDO in ‘Rise of the CDO…do you need one?’ last year.

For small to mid-size enterprises, the conversation is not taking place soon enough. Many are still contemplating how to task the IT manager or director with more responsibility. Or worse yet, the responsibilities are being shared across the executive team. In one example outlined below, the results can be catastrophic.

So, when do you get your first CIO? And if you have a CIO, do you still need one? Isn’t the CIO’s role simply about managing the computers? In a word, no.

Do I need a CIO?

The short answer to this is yes. From small to large enterprises, the need for a CIO is greater today than ever before. Many will see a CIO and their organization as a cost center that eats into the bottom line. If so, that is a very short-sided view. Today’s CIO is very strategic in nature.

More than ever, business relies heavily on technology. But more than the technology itself, it is how it is applied and leveraged that makes the difference. The how relies heavily on context around business value and applicability. It requires someone, the CIO, to make the connection between business value across multiple disciplines and the technology itself.

Can other executives provide this capability? No. They can provide a different caliber of tactical implementation, but not the cross-functional strategic perspective that a CIO brings to the table. And it is this cross-functional strategic perspective that brings significant value to differentiate companies.

Information is the currency of business. It is what drives business decisions that will affect the success and failures across a myriad of dimensions. The CIO is the best position to understand, drive and expose value from information. The value of the information

What does CIO stand for?

This seems like a perennial subject. What does the ‘I’ in CIO stand for? Information? Innovation? Inspiration? Integration? The bottom line is that the I stands for the same thing is has always stood for; Information. Today’s business is driven by information. Technology is simply an enabler to leverage information. Integration, innovation, etc are all functional means to drive the value of information to a company.

If information is gold, what is technology? Technology is similar to the mining and refining equipment to extract and process the gold. Without it, the gold may be discovered, but in small quantities using ineffective means. A major factor in today’s business is speed. Access to information quickly is paramount.

The evolving role of the CIO

The CIO’s role (past and present) is far more complicated that many appreciate. A CIO is really a business leader that happens to have responsibility for IT. In addition, a CIO is really a CEO with a technology focus. A CIO is strategically focused and able to traverse the entire organization at the C-level. That last attribute requires a level of experience very different from the traditional CIO.

In the case of Acme, a CIO would be a great asset moving forward.

New evidence of employee disengagement: 1/3 say employer is not always honest and truthful

The Wall Street Journal is working with the American Psychological Association on a workplace study, which as far as I can determine has not yet been published.  However, some of the results reported in a WSJ story are in line with other recent research regarding workforce disengagement (see What to do about the disengaged workforce? and The way to engage employees is to disengage management, for example).

In this research, only 52% of those surveyed — 1,562 working adults conducted in January and February — said ‘My employer is open and upfront with me’, and 24% don’t trust their employer.



There is evidence that the persistent pay gap between men and women is an issue:

On a side note, the survey also found evidence of frustration among women about the persistent pay gap, with only 42% of women expressing satisfaction with their pay compared to 54% of men. But a roughly equal proportion of men and women—60% of men and 58% of women—say they are satisfied with the work-life balance practices at work. But only 52% of all surveyed say that they feel valued.

It’s clear that employers either don’t make employee engagement a priority, or their efforts are failing.


First trust, then trustworthiness: yes, it’s counterintuitive

I was involved in an online chat at the Future of Work community and Avi Sujeeth posted this:

I think the trust deficit in most organizations is the largest barrier to the new way to work.  There are plenty of articles that talk to this point, like this one in the Harvard Business Review.
“Owning one’s defiance feels risky at every (st)age. Speaking up feels even more exposing and consequential, spontaneity more unfamiliar, when we’ve spent much of our careers learning to modulate our silence—and being rewarded for it.” Particularly resonated with me.
IMO that’s why success manager training focuses on starting small and telling stories.  As we seek to encourage people to self-organize, to be authentic, and to be open; I think it’ll be imperative to figure out the best ways to approach building trust.

Yes, I believe that many companies are stress factories, and people there work to keep their heads down and their mouth closed, or full of non-controversial things. It’s typical to put the burden on the individual, to say that we have to earn the trust of others before we get a chance to operate autonomously, to openly state our opinions, or take action.
But I think the reality is the opposite. As I said in the online discussion with Avi,

Actually, I think it’s the other way around: the propensity to trust others leads the others toward positive business behaviors, like higher risk taking, citizenship behavior, and task performance, and lower counterproductive behaviors (see Trust, Trustworthiness, and Trust Propensity: A Meta-Analytic Test of Their Unique Relationships With Risk Taking and Job Performance, by Jason A. Colquitt, Brent A. Scott, and Jeffery A. LePine).
So — even though it’s counterintuitive — it’s really trust, then trustworthiness.
If you are trust-averse, you look for more ‘”good reasons” constituting evidence of trustworthiness’, but I agree with other researchers that ‘trust often requires a leap beyond the expectations that ability, benevolence, and integrity can inspire’.

One aspect of the new leadership — leanership — to to stretch the trust propensity, and to rely on the impact that trust can make.

Matt Partovi on Why I don’t tell people to close their laptops during meetings

Matt makes a great point that seems  at first to be a minor aspect of business etiquette: should people be using their companion devices during meetings? The traditional arguments are based on premises of attention and deference. ‘We should close our laptops (tablets, etc.) and direct our total, focused attention to the topic of the meeting. That’s both mindful and polite.’ You can imagine any number of Sunday-supplement, conventional wisdom arguments, as well.

But Matt takes a different tack altogether:

Matt Partovi, Why I don’t tell people to close their laptops during meetings

I don’t tell people to close their laptops in meetings, and here’s why:

  1. It’s taking a top-down, command-and-control approach. Their attention is theirs to give, rather than mine to take. I’d be making the decision for each person that what is being said is more important than everything else they could be doing at that time. What if they are working on something that had emerged that day? Responding to it for a few minutes during the meeting could be more valuable to the organisation. At the very least, being in the meeting means they can listen to most of it, rather than missing it all by not being in the meeting at all. As the meeting lead, I don’t have all the information as to how they should prioritise their other work ahead of or behind what I’m presenting. I’d prefer to give the individual as much context as I could about why we’re here, and then trust them to make the decision about where they devote their attention. Their attention is theirs to give, rather than mine to take.

Matt’s eye is on the productivity of the network — including people outside the meeting — not on the hypothetical purpose of the meeting, or the tender sensibilities of the meeting leader. He is biased toward autonomy, and the trust that underlies the third way of work: we have to trust coworkers to make their own judgments about how to accomplish the work in front of them, and how to balance their various commitments. It’s not our job to pick their tool or techniques, or to determine if they can or can’t effectively split their attention across what’s taking place in the meeting and what’s on their screen. Over time we come to understand if someone meets their commitments or not, but it’s the outcomes that matter, not how they did or did not get there.

Behind Matt’s aphorism — Their attention is theirs to give, rather than mine to take — is a deeper and larger truth. We are now shifting into the always- and loosely-connected workplace of the third way of work (leaving behind the partially- and tightly-connected workplace of the second way of work), we will come to realize that time is a shared space, as I recently wrote

Time is a shared space, a common resource: a commons. None of us owns the moment we are living in: we share it.

The meeting leader who demands that attendees must close their laptops is trying to corner the market on time, and to put his personal interests against the needs of the many, relying on a false doctrine of obligation instead of trusting others to balance their own attention. If you think of it as a question of increased diversity and the need for accepting higher degrees of dissensus as the only answer to the faster speed of business, then it is cast in a totally different light.

The third way of work incorporates the idea that time is the new space. And as Yves Behar said about rethinking how we share space in our workplaces, transitioning to a new way to share time is not the work of a moment, but the work of a movement. That movement will manifest itself in small changes — like not asking for undivided attention in meetings — that represent a tectonic shift below in the cultural rules and values at the core of work culture.