Avengers, Assemble! Why Senior Superheros Should Fight Together


Bringing together diverse capabilities, experience and opinions results in a powerful alliance

As CIO you hold great power, though this power also brings a Kryptonite-like weakness with it. You are responsible for sustaining the information flows of an organization. You also carry the curse of not being taken seriously. It’s like being Captain America and the Invisible Man at the same time.

It’s seems lonely and frustrating, but if you step outside of your Arctic stronghold/ underwater lair/ server room and take a look around you’ll notice you are not the only executive in the same predicament.

Your challenge is to assemble a team and lead them into a powerful and effective alliance.

The need to work across the C-suite

As a leader you see the benefits when your team collaborates with others from across the organization. The synthesis that results from different professional skills, diverse opinions and complementary thinking styles is well documented. But how often do you do this at the C-level?

Collaboration across the C-level is rare outside of monthly executive meetings. Often what stops you is an over-full schedule, your own conviction, or the vulnerability you feel in reaching out to your peers with the opportunity to join forces.

There are three situations that you risk by not taking the initiative:

  • You will continue to operate in isolation. Your ability to influence both your peers and the strategic direction of the company will diminish. You can be picked off, ignored and relegated to utility-like operational responsibilities.
  • Your growth and career progression will be stalled. As a CIO your value is no longer in what you know or what you can do. It is in how you lead. You need to lead with ideas, fostering innovation and challenge your peers to think about what could be. Without this you are doomed, paraphrasing Albert Einstein, to the insanity of continuing do the same things over and over again while expecting different results.
  • Your team will be relegated to doing instead of thinking. Good or bad, your team will follow your lead and display the same behaviors as you. If you fail to take the initiative then they may also become wary of stepping outside of their comfort zone to engage in open and constructive conversations with their peers in other functions. They will start to refer to “the business” in the third person. If that is how they are referring to the rest of the company then you can only imagine how the rest of the company is referring to them, and to you.

The good news is that you are not alone. There is a opportunity for you to gather a group of your peers and creatively join forces. A League of Corporate Superheros, if you will.

Learn from your peers

Begin by approaching individuals on their terms. Do your research, watch their body language in meetings to see what is frustrating them, observe what topics they are continuously trying to get onto the agenda, and learn to appreciate their strengths.

As an example, consider the following positions in your organization and how their peers may view them:

  • Head of Human Resources. Strategic and transformational leader, aligning the company’s operating model with future need? Or custodian of payroll, performance and policy?
  • Shared Services Director. Champion of process and service excellence? Or a lowest-cost commodity that can be outsourced with a snap of the fingers?
  • General Counsel. Guiding hand and the protecting counsel that your organization needs in your commercial and regulatory environment? Or a layer of bureaucracy that holds up decisions and adds red tape to deals and agreements?

Explore the skills and insight that each of these leaders brings to the table. These are not necessarily their functional strengths. Rather, they are the intrinsic values and viewpoints that, by themselves, are often lost against the backdrop of everyday matters such as sales, operations and finance.

Consider the following mix:

  • The holistic understanding of people, values and capability from Human Resources;
  • The energy, teamwork and strong customer engagement culture from Shared Services;
  • The pragmatic, informed and far reaching insight of Legal;
  • The resilience, vision and adaptability of Information Services.

When combined these skills create a powerful analytical and problem solving capability that is far more effective than if they were to be employed individually.

Take the initiative

Be on the front foot. Work with your peers. Find time to explore the capabilities that you each bring by discussing and agreeing on the common dilemmas and obstacles you face.

Pick a pressing problem facing your organization, one that provides you with an effective and visible vehicle to engage with your C-level peers.

Workshop the problem as a team and agree on the target outcome. Map the journey ahead, including the risks and opportunities you might encounter. It is at this stage where you will benefit from the diverse perspectives and experience of your League of Corporate Superheros.

The result will be a sound plan with a number of your senior peers united and invested in both the approach and the outcome.

Be clear and consistent as a team

The way in which you engage your remaining C-level colleagues will depend on the culture of your organization. It is safe to assume that nobody (especially the CEO) enjoys being ambushed. Your best stratagem is to divide and conquer.

Have your League engage with each of the C-level and the CEO individually. Ensure the messaging is consistent and focused on the target outcome. Share the challenges and additional insights that come back from those engagements – they will be vital in showing that the individuals have been listened to and their opinions valued.

Start conservatively and adapt your style and approach, once more using your League peers to shape and refine this based on their own viewpoints. The success of the process will be a consequence of two vital actions: your partnering behaviors, and the effort put in to give all parties the opportunity to voice their opinion and become invested in the process.

Leadership is something you earn

By taking the initiative to bring together an otherwise marginalized group of senior leaders you will have gathered a formidable influencing force around you. Furthermore, you will have set the scene for your own team as to what a CIO – their leader – is capable of achieving.

As the sun sinks and the smoke clears over the company battlefield, you might feel more human that super-human, but that’s OK. By forming a powerful alliance you will have overcome the odds and live to fight another day. And who knows – maybe you can use a structured lease on your Batmobile flee.


CMOs and CIOs: Will It Ever Be Happily Ever After?


To make the right technology purchasing decisions marketing and IT must collaborate

Not so long ago the term marketing meant; promotion, branding, and communication. Nowadays the Chief Marketing Officer’s (CMO’s) role is one of strategy. The rise of internet based solutions has seen them become responsible for overseeing the company’s key driver for growth: digital marketing. As a result senior marketing executives have suddenly found themselves at the very heart of important IT issues.

CMOs are taking control of IT budgets

Last year Laura McLellan at Gartner predicted that soon CMOs will be spending more on IT than CIOs, a conjecture that was taken with a large pinch of salt by many. But when you consider that marketing already purchases a fair proportion (30%) of its own technology and services perhaps it isn’t such a far-fetched proposition. In fact, CMOs have been buying technology from outside providers for some time – tools for lead generation, tracking, content management and more.

CMOs are under pressure to make fast IT purchasing decisions

Organizations that have managed to get up to speed with CRM, database marketing, and social media are now rapidly turning their attention to customer analytics and big data issues. Finding ways to tame and utilize the steady stream of information coming in from all directions is top of the agenda for CMOs keen to gain a competitive advantage. In response, a host of new technology enablers, including cloud service providers, have appeared on the scene, giving senior marketing executives ever-more perplexing IT purchasing decisions to make.

The value proposition that is being increasingly thrown at CMOs by such providers is that they can ‘tech enable’ their marketing projects without having to involve IT. As such the opportunity to circumvent IT is no doubt an enticing prospect for some CMOs, given the pressure on them to act fast in a market which is changing at lightning speed.

Does marketing need its CIO when buying technology?

Marketing executives are tempted to leave IT out of the equation because they fear their CIO will slow down or even halt their plans. Marketing is all about innovation, speed, and agility with market impact and customer experience top of the agenda while IT is more concerned with stability, security and functionality. It’s not that IT doesn’t understand marketing’s objectives, but rather IT executives value their own priorities more.

While marketers have the vision and the drive, they often lack the technical depth. IT on the other hand has the technical depth, but different incentives and priorities. At first glance it is clear that both parties have something valuable to bring to the table. IT is likely to be able to provide valuable insights about how to best achieve marketing goals faster and less expensively. In particular they may have had experience with prospective vendors that will help in making the right buying decision.

Marketing need to ‘own’ their technology

While CMOs may lack the required skillset to make big decisions about IT purchases they feel passionate about being able to ‘own’ their new technology. Since it’s their heads on the block when the CEO looks at the results they need to be the market drivers of marketing technology, the creators of their own destiny, rather than just interested passengers.

But buying in new marketing technologies is not just about making decisions about individual components. It’s about the effects and interactions the new technologies will have on other components, both internal and external. This makes leaving CIOs out of the picture a risky venture. The buck will stop with CMOs alone if they are later found to have implemented rogue projects which could potentially harm critical IT infrastructure.

The rise of cross-functional marketing/IT teams

Forward thinking companies have already brought these two essential functions closer together. In an IBM Survey in 2012 a reported 51% of high performing companies reported a close working relationship between their CIOs and their CMOs (10% higher than other companies).

They achieved this by initiating job swaps, appointing technical people to senior marketing positions and vice versa. The result: A shared customer view, more efficient workflows and clear benefits to workers, the brand, and consumers.

[VIDEO] How External Drivers Are Shaping the IT Function and the Role of the CIO


The capabilities CIOs need to create value in a changing world

The video below of an interview with me was recorded by CIO Magazine in conjunction with a series of events sponsored by IBM on the Tomorrow-Ready CIO.

In the video I discuss how the role of the CIO is at a point of divergence. On one hand we’re seeing the CIO marginalized in some organizations as business units bypass the IT department to procure technology directly. On the other hand some CIOs are leveraging the increasing importance of technology in business to create a new role for themselves, in which they work across the business to help drive strategy and develop an institutional understanding of the opportunities that technology is affording the business.

I see the new CIO as a key figure in building the extended enterprise in which organizations integrate partners, suppliers, and even customers into the enterprise as they realize creation of value is no longer restricted to the team within the business’s own four walls. Doing this will allow CIOs to create superior value for the business and expand their role.

Full Transcript of Video:
In looking at the future of the CIO, I tried to create a framework which looked at the external drivers, the things that are shaping technology and deciding the business world. How that changes the IT function and, in turn, how that shapes the role of the CIO, in terms of what are the capabilities, what are the enablers of the new role of the CIO, and how CIOs create value.

Some of the key capabilities of CIOs are visionary leadership and that requires being able to create a compelling, achievable, realistic vision of what the IT function of the future looks like.

Most of it requires an entrepreneurial mindset, and I think that more and more we are seeing the rise of entrepreneurship in business and at large, but it indeed this needs to be applied within business and within the IT function. Both in terms of being able to have an opportunistic mentality, to look and to seize opportunities. But also to take guidance from what the whole, what is happening in the world of start-ups today and particularly, being able to build this so called lean start-up To iterate very fast and to building and learning from what you’re doing rather than going through long development cycles.

I think there are also some fundamental capabilities in being able to not just have a strategic perspective, but also engage the board, engage the key executives, and if necessary to educate them on the impact of technology on the business, in order understand why technology is so central to an organization’s future.

CIO’s need to demonstrate that they can create superior value in order both to justify their role and also what should be an expanding role inside the organization. They need to be able to demonstrate that they can facilitate better business decisions being made. They also need to be able to be a facilitator of agility in organizations by being able to build flexible processes that the organization can be agile and respond to a changing business environment. They need to be able to also create a perspective on the organization where strategy is developed, understanding that the whole future landscape for both technology and the business around them. And one of the key ways in which CIOs create value is really being able to build what is being described as the extended enterprise. Where value’s not created just within the organization but beyond it, and the role of CIO is fundamentally to extend the reach of the organization to its customers, to its suppliers, cross its partners, cross the whole ecosystem where value is created.

I think that in many organizations that technology functions as a point of divergence where some, many cases we’ve seen the technology functions start to be marginalized, commoditized, budgets shrunk and just as perception that is creating a basic pipes that make the organization run. So there’s a real danger of the whole technology function being marginalized, endangering the very organization itself.

So this is a responsibility of the CIO to be able to demonstrate the value today and demonstrate the potential for value creation in the future. I think we’re going to see two different types of organization, where the technology function is both creating value, demonstrating that value creation and be able to support the potential of the organization, ones where the technology function becomes marginalized, to the detriment of the organization itself.