I'm attending my third Midmarket CIO Forum, an event tailored to the needs of CIOs leading midmarket companies. It's an interesting concept, given that vendors, analysts and trade journalists like myself tend to devote much of their attention to small companies or large enterprises.
The thing that's impressed me the most about the prior two events is attendees' willingness to share their experiences with each other. IT Business Edge contributor Rob Enderle was similarly impressed with the CIOs' openness after attending last spring's event.
I've seen even more of this at this week's event, thanks to the decision of some of the Info-Tech Research Group analysts to conduct their presentations as hands-on workshops, leading attendees through discussions of questions regarding topics like IT/business relationships. Several interesting comments I heard during two separate workshops, one on becoming a more effective IT leader and another on delivering maximum value with limited staff, involved meetings, with CIOs offering what I thought were some great tips on how to get more value out of them.
As regular readers know, I'm not a big fan of meetings. I see them as a necessary evil, and so do a lot of the CIOs here in Miami, judging by their comments. When asked to consider how to get more value of out weekly meetings with their direct reports, lots of CIOs quickly suggested making such meetings biweekly. One CIO offered up an idea that works well in his organization, to conduct weekly meetings but to focus on leadership issues such as staffing rather than status updates every other week.
"If you try to have leadership discussions in the midst of status updates, the updates just wipe those out," said the CIO. I liked this idea a lot, because I think lots of folks get so preoccupied in dealing with day-to-day activities that they simply don't make time for those higher-level issues. If they do, they probably discuss them only a few times a year. Every other week seems like the right frequency for status updates. Most CIOs-though not all-seemed to agree.
Another CIO has his teams take turns giving reports for each other, with operations giving an applications update, for example. This helps ensure the CIO and his staff are aware of cross-functional issues. He didn't say so, but I bet it also improves colleagues' relationships with each other. At the very least, it gets them talking more. It also seems like a good way to groom staff for management roles, as the abilities to listen and to accurately convey the perspectives of others are key skills for good managers.
Though I wouldn't normally suggest increasing meeting frequency, there are exceptions, as one CIO'e experience illustrates. He bumped up the frequency of performance review meetings attended by six members of the executive team from quarterly to monthly when it became clear "they didn't want to talk about what we did, but what we could do." That helped shift the focus from analyzing historical data to brainstorming on future opportunities. In those discussions, he said, in-the-red KPIs are viewed as "the starting points for conversations, not failures."
Another topic of discussion was IT steering committees, an idea recently addressed by IT Business Edge colleague Susan Hall in a post on setting IT priorities. One CIO said the approach he found worked best was making IT a line item at monthly meetings of senior executives. Those discussions yield "wish lists" of a dozen or so desired IT improvements or initiatives. They are then winnowed down to a smaller list by folks at the director level, who have more time and inclination for detailed discussions that translate those high-level goals into actual projects.
Another CIO said he'd found "a lot more innovation outside the C-level" in considering IT opportunities, so he also works with a committee of non-executives. Their schedules often offer more availability for discussion and they tend to have better insights than executives on how technology will impact "regular" business users.