This morning I was on the panel for the opening session of the Society for Information Management’s CIO Forum & Executive IT Summit, near Philadelphia. There was a whole lot of IT talent in one big room – but more importantly, I’ll bet there were a lot of leadership team members in the crowd who aren’t appreciated nearly as much as they should be.
It may seem odd, but even at the ‘C-level’, some executives are ‘insiders’ and some are not. During the past decade or two, many IT leaders (along with HR leaders) have found themselves left out of key decisions, even when they clearly could have provided relevant—even essential—business insights. Finding that this is still true gave me a ‘flashback’ to the time when getting ‘seat at the table’ was something I really craved. Happily for me, I get to pick where I sit these days, and my special chair (petite, like me) is usually at the head. But it isn’t about ‘the table’ any more. It’s about the team.
I like IT, and I value IT people a lot. Years ago, before we developed the interlocking behavioral simulators that generate our product (TGI Role-Based Assessment reports), it would take us about 11 hours to produce a single report. Today, the reports are ready almost instantly, and they are delivered automatically to boot! The fact is, we wouldn’t even have a marketable product today were it not for the truly gifted developer who created the simulators from my very crude design. That project alone took 8½ years.
Then there are the IT teams that created business blogging, eBusiness technology, and lately, provided a self-service environment for social networking. Thanks to these anonymous tech heroes, TGI has recruited over 130 agents worldwide, and we recently logged our 75th customer—some of which are IT companies and departments. And all of that activity has happened in less than 18 months, on a shoestring budget!
Equally important, IT has sped up the process of differentiating ‘RBA’ from other forms of assessment. Every day, more and more executives and business owners are learning that the ability to measure how people team together is a big value-add when hiring, selecting teams, promoting, and coaching or managing people.
The opportunity to utilize offshore IT has worked well for us, too. Our technology partner in India has done a great job of developing the online business system that handles both internal and customer transactions. So in a way, we have two CIOs, one domestic and one outsourced. And their most important job is to team together because if one side isn’t talking to the other, there’s going to be business trouble.
In business, all sides need to be ‘connecting’ with each other, so in order to be a successful IT leader—or any kind of leader—you need to be a good team player. This is not just my opinion…it comes from years of in-depth research on executive behavior. The one thing you need throughout the executive suite is a measure that we call Coherence. People who are Coherent have a positive orientation to working with others to achieve common goals. In other words, they are top quality team players.
The second thing that makes a good IT leader is a good fit between the person’s mode or style of contributing to their team, and the actual job responsibilities that they are expected to fulfill. One of the things we learned during 25-years of R&D is that different people have very different levels of attraction to serving the needs of their organization or team. This attraction is measurable, and we call it Role, with a capital R to distinguish it from the more common use.
The demands on an IT leader can range all over the map. Consider how utterly different the CIO job is in a fast-growing firm that is implementing a cutting-edge eBusiness solution, as compared to the CIO’s responsibilities in an old-line firm that is primarily focused on maintaining reliable mainframe-style systems.
The job title may be the same, but the Role (the capital-R Role) best suited to the job will be completely different. Not just because of the technology, but because the nature of ‘teaming’ is so different in those two environments.
On an executive team, the CEO is the leader – but ‘leader’ has a lot of different meanings. If you have one who truly believes that leadership is a team sport, and they lead by inspiration, with implicit trust in their teammates, then there will be plenty of seats at the table, to be filled by people who have something to offer that moves the company’s vision into reality—regardless of whether or not their title starts with a ‘C’.
If all of the people on the team are Coherent (another thing that RBA measures), some really great team synergy will happen. But Coherence isn’t everything. When you have high Coherence, and correct Role-fit throughout the teams in an organization, you are on your way to creating what we call a Coherent Human Infrastructure.
We have a fabulous team, and yet things don’t always work perfectly. That’s where I take the blame. In the language of Role-Based Assessment, my dual Roles are Founder and Vision Mover. Both of those Roles work at a very high level of abstraction. I’ve learned that I need to really think through and communicate what I want to happen, and then trust my IT team to make it work. Where I haven’t, that’s where we falter. Fortunately, the team has learned to remind me to come out of the clouds whenever they need me down on the ground.
I think that the rapid pace of change – economic, technological, demographic, and so on – is finally causing people to realize that all of business is a team sport.
The more IT leaders recognize that their function is essential to the human infrastructure of the entire organization, and not just the IT infrastructure, the better they will ‘connect’ with their mission, and with their colleagues. You can’t outsource that!
As long as I know I’m working with IT people who are good team players, and who have expertise and vision, they will be ‘insiders’ in getting us where we want to go.
Dear IT leaders, and future leaders: Your star is rising again. All you need to do is to play IT as a team sport!
Maybe it’s my line of work, but people are always expecting me to have the answers. (If they got a Role-Based Assessment report from my company, it will contain a lot of answers. But from me? – sorry, I didn’t replace my crystal ball when it broke, and since we started using Keurig coffee pods at the office, there aren’t enough tea leaves around here for a decent reading.)
So instead of feeling useless, answer-wise, I thought I’d give you a look at some of my favorite questions.
Warning: The Surgeon General has determined that you may safely ask these questions of yourself. However, asking them of other people, without an explicit request for help, can be dangerous to your health. (And that warning goes double if you happen to be married to the respondent!)
“What does that mean?”
It’s always a good idea to start by defining your terms and concepts. Language is rich, but if you don’t establish a common frame of reference, you will get noise and distortion in the communication channels. When that happens, it is easy to end up thinking that you understand, even when you are missing the point, totally. This guarantees that many, if not most, of the answers anyone comes up with during the course of the discussion will not be helpful ones.
“How do you know?”
We have browsers. We have Google. We have expert communities. With all the stuff that the giant collective ‘they’ opines about on practically any topic, it’s amazing how much trouble we still get ourselves into. That’s because we are sometimes entirely too dependent on what ‘they’ know. (If you don’t believe me, visit and snoop around Snopes.com.) A lot of the stuff we ‘know’ because ‘they’ said it, just isn’t so. Sometimes asking the ‘How’ question snaps us back into reality.
People often want advice on how to change things that they have no power to change – or even to connect with. I don’t want to offend any change management professionals here. Changing big organizational processes is a tough challenge. But sometimes change doesn’t warrant all the hue and cry that goes up when people first hear about it. So when someone is complaining, and there’s really not much substance to it, you can hit them with ‘So what?’ It’s especially effective when used sparingly – and sincerely. You’ll sound practical – and sympathetic – at the same time, and you won’t actually have to get too deeply involved with sound and fury that signifies nothing.
I love this question the most because kids ask it all the time. And it has the simplest answer (ask any tired parent): “Because.” The key with this question, for adults as much as for any kid, is that sometimes you need to keep asking it until you get an answer that satisfies you. And on the flip side – you can just keep giving this answer until the person expecting a different, better one, goes off to search elsewhere.
Lastly, a favorite question, and of a much higher order: Hamlet’s “To be or not to be?”
Only one good answer. ‘Be.’
Be-cause when you are be-ing, good questions (and good answers) sorta come naturally.