Engaging the CEO in IT

I’ve met very few CEOs who have a ready interest in IT. Well, only when they’re running a technology company, and even then it’s the product that gets their attention and rarely the technology that runs the business. But as CIOs and CTOs, we know how important IT is, and how tough it can be to do our jobs if the CEO doesn’t take an interest. Businesses grow slower and are less profitable when IT is just a necessary evil. So if your CEO doesn’t show an affinity for IT, how do we pique their interest? How do we keep the ‘why’ and ‘how’ consistently on the CEO’s mind?

This is no easy task, but there are a few things I’ve learnt about engaging a CEO to ensure IT gets the attention it deserves:

📢 Speaking their language. Above all, you need to be a businessperson, commercially savvy and with a background in building businesses. This helps you understand what the CEO is trying to achieve and the language they speak in the boardroom and what they’re looking for from their direct reports. We also need to act as translators, translating geek-speak into business-speak and vice-versa.

🚶🏽Meet your CEO where they’re comfortable. Never expect the CEO to come to you. Always go to them. They aren’t interested in seeing the tech or walking amongst your teams, because it’s a world they generally don’t understand. Instead, meet them where they are most comfortable. It could be their office, but it also might be over lunch or a drink in the evening. Going for a walk and a chat is known to be a very successful method for engaging with people, particularly men apparently!

⚠️Go where their attention is. What is your CEO interested in? What is their main priority? Once you know these, you can make sure that IT is enabling these interests and priorities. This of course is related to meeting your CEO where they’re comfortable, but it’s really about ensuring their goals have your full attention, and they know you’re helping to reach them: make sure your reports demonstrate how your team is driving the results that the CEO is most interested in.

💡Ask their opinion. Not an easy one this, but if you can get their opinion on something that fires up their CEO-brain, they’ll enjoy it. Don’t bring them problems; instead make them feel like you need their expertise and particular point of view. If you can finesse this so it’s IT-related, it will mean you’re on to a winner.

📈Engage them with data. One of the first things I ask a CEO is whether they have a ‘one-glance’ method to find out the state of their business over breakfast. In other words, do they have a dashboard available on their phone or tablet that provides them with a state of play for their business, thus giving them a solid foundation for the day ahead. If they don’t have that, then it’s always interesting to find out why, and then deliver it for them. It sometimes has the side-effect of creating a whole data project, but that’s no bad thing given that data is the lifeblood of any business.

🍿Make your reports engaging. Any CEO should be able to easily read your reports and understand them. Even better, make sure your CEO wants to read the report and that it will add value to their decision-making. Long ago, I gave up on SLA/KPI metric reporting because, quite frankly, it’s very boring and a single green status box give the CEO a view of whether things are ok or not. Instead, for each point in a report, I ask myself the simple question: What value will this be to the CEO (or any other senior leader)? If I don’t see the value, then neither will the CEO, so leave it out or re-work it until the value is obvious.

Even if we don’t report into the CEO, it’s important to create and develop a relationship with them. Don’t ignore it. If we speak their language, provide clear, useful data, and make their lives easier through the judicious use of technology, then that’s only going to be a good thing for everyone! A CIO or CTO is entitled to as close a relationship as anyone else in the leadership team; it’s just we probably need to be a bit more proactive and put a bit more effort in.

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