A general does not fight a war alone.  A coach cannot win a game on his own.  And without the dedicated efforts of the IT team, a CIO will fail.

You can establish a terrific vision and direction, but if your team refuses to follow, it is for naught.  You can come up with the best strategy in the world, but if your team cannot execute, what have you gained?  You can talk about the need to be more innovative, but if your team is not engaged, that likely won’t happen. team

“People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.” —John Maxwell

Leading the IT department is not something you can totally delegate to your IT leadership team.  Yes, these managers are a key element in the ongoing success of the department and the company.  They need your coaching and mentorship (see How Are You Developing IT Bench Strength?).  The relationship that each of your managers has with their individual team members is important to the morale and well-being of the department.  But that cannot substitute for the relationship a CIO should build with each individual in the IT department.

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” —Max DePree

As the size of the overall IT staff increases, the time available for a CIO to spend with each individual IT colleague will likely diminish; however, that does not reduce the importance of developing these relationships.  It simply means that you must become more creative. Remember the children’s game where everyone sits in a circle and a secret is repeated from person to person by each whispering in his neighbor’s ear?  How many times did the story at the end match what was originally told to the first person?  In a similar way, your managers filter your message to their teams, and they also filter the team’s response back to you.  That alone should help each of us realize the importance of developing relationships at all levels of the organization.

Here are some practical steps a CIO can take in developing relationships with others throughout the IT department:

  • Be transparent.  Help them understand what is going on in the department and in the company.  Regularly talk about the challenges and opportunities as well as the wins.  Address some of the news that is going on in your industry.  Some leaders use weekly blogs or emails to communicate with their staff.  The communication does not have to be long but the regularity of it builds confidence in the staff that nothing is being hidden.
  • Show them you truly care.  Take the time to meet with individual staff members.  Where possible, use one-on-one meetings but also do not neglect the opportunity to host small numbers for breakfast or lunch. Learn about their lives outside work.  Talk about their hopes and dreams.  Ask their thoughts on what is going well and what could be improved…and then commit to making the improvements they identify.
  • Trust them.  Let’s face it.  IT is a very detail-oriented profession.  And many IT leaders got where they are today because they are good at their profession (and thus can be very detail-oriented).   But as CIO, your responsibility is to build a team that not only can capably deliver what the company needs today but also can grow to deliver what the company will require in the future.  Any CIO that insists on understanding all the details – or insists on the IT leadership team understanding all the details – is damaging the effectiveness of the organization.  Instead ensure everyone understands the vision and parameters under which they must operate.  Then step back and cheer them on.

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity” —General George Patton

  • Show your appreciation.  A Harris Interactive poll found that 53% of employees would stay at their jobs longer if they felt more appreciation from their boss.  In addition, 81% said they are motivated to work harder when their boss shows them appreciation.  It doesn’t have to cost a lot.  A simple “thank you” will go a long way when you provide some specifics behind your gratitude.  A handwritten note goes a long way (and is much better than an email).  I have seen some notes posted on cubicle walls even years after they were received.  Don’t neglect opportunities such as birthdays or work anniversaries as additional occasions to recognize and appreciate people.
  • Spread the word.  Ensure your fellow executives know the good things that your staff is accomplishing.  Enlist their help in congratulating and encouraging your staff.
  • It is OK to make a mistake.  When a mistake is made, we do not undertake a witch hunt, look to point fingers, or throw anyone under the bus.  We simply look to correct the problem, learn from it, and look for ways to prevent it from happening again.  And as CIO, you take public responsibility for the mistake because it happened on your watch.
  • I’ve got your back.  Sadly there are times in which another executive, a customer, a business partner, or even a vendor may mistreat a member of your staff.  This can occur through verbal abuse, bullying, or even threatening their job.  When this occurs, ensure that your staff knows this is unacceptable and take swift action to confront the perpetrator.

The importance of a CIO’s relationship with his staff is becoming even more important as the need for and reality of IT transformation increases.  It can also increase employee engagement which leads to people who willingly go the extra mile, work with passion, and feel a profound connection to their company. These are the people who will drive innovation and move your business forward.

What thoughts do you have to help the CIO improve his relationship with others in the IT department?

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