CIOs Down on Their Own Performance

Ann All

When I linked to McKinsey's fourth annual survey on IT spending and strategy earlier this week, it was in a post focused on the former topic. Like others, McKinsey found that many IT chiefs plan to focus on further cutting costs through efficiency improvements over the next 12 to 18 months. At the same time, a growing number are considering targeted investments in new projects.


While the spending insights were interesting, I was really grabbed by the respondents' answers on strategy, which can be found on the fifth and last page of the article. (Free registration is required.) In a nutshell, it looks as if many IT executives worry that IT isn't up to snuff in working closely with the business to achieve overall corporate goals. (Yes, it's that old angst over lack of IT/business alignment again.)


The biggest percentage of respondents, 47 percent, say business strategy is created first and used to guide IT strategy. Eighteen percent say business strategy is developed with some input from IT. Sixteen percent say business and IT strategies are tightly integrated and influence each other. Disappointingly, 19 percent say business and IT strategies are not linked at all.


Oddly enough (or not so oddly, given CIOs' predilection for self-examination), business leaders appear to have a higher opinion of IT than their IT counterparts. McKinsey notes "IT executives' dissatisfaction with their job performance could eventually lead to deeper problems in morale and performance."


Its suggestion:

Clear and effective communication by both IT and business executives will be critical to ensure that the IT organization continues to understand how integral its efforts are to the success of the enterprise.

IT leaders may feel this way because of the nature of their jobs, which as Advance Consulting's Doug Brockway wrote in a guest opinion for IT Business Edge, involve lots of quick changes to keep up with changing business needs. He said:

More than any other function in business, IT leaders need to optimize on multiple dimensions for multiple stakeholders. The constituencies vary in their needs for IT to present a high-growth-company profile or a low-growth-company profile. In IT terms, one portion of the business may need to frantically add new function and another needs to control costs and hunker down.

And, as Brockway pointed out, the CIO role carries a lot of expectations because it touches every area of the business. He wrote:

... This forces CIOs to display a greater degree of resilience and optionality than other functional executives who are torn between appreciation for IT's contributions and resentment at being obliged to accept them. And there's nothing for it. Who knew that the "technician's" job would, managerially, be the most complex?

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Dec 16, 2009 9:19 AM Christopher Butcher Christopher Butcher  says:

Very thought provoking article!

It's nice to hear that folks' perception of IT is not as bad as IT executives. I'm not sure exactly what it means, but given how hard CIOs typically are on themselves and their staff, I think that's a good thing.

Your article raised a couple of thoughts:

- One is that you used my new favorite word-du-jour: "resilience". I think that could be the next buzz-word next to "agile." I had a few thoughts on my blog at http://ciocode.com/2009/11/05/the-resilient-project/.

- The other is that this survey may just be an outcome of what evidence suggests, which is that self-assessments are just lousy. Studies show that most people rate themselves at about 65th percentile whether they are stars or duds.

The McKinsey recommendation to have better communication is correct. Self-assessments are bad and can lead to mismatched expectations and poor morale (whether performance is overrated or underrated). If self-assessment is bad, let's actually get some real evaluation and feedback based on data. Let's clarify the goals, put the measurements in place, and do the analysis to KNOW how we're doing. And then get the pat on the back for doing well.

Dec 16, 2009 12:34 PM Bill Bill  says:

Another interesting way to look at why some IT Executives fret about if they are 'up to snuff' or not is that so much of how IT is viewed is subjective.  In short, how others view IT are often short lived in the IT world.   In IT you can have simultaneous successes and failures at the same time.

Managing expectations is still a challenge while erstwhile demands from constituents with influence to C-level managers can keep most IT Executives uneasy.  Most business units now recognize the importance of IT.  The problem is not that.  I also don't see the aligning with IT as a huge issue any more because where there is a need alignment has to occur.  The real challenge remains the fine nuances needed to facilitate the right solutions by all parties.  We are all aware of the 'gatekeepers' that must be managed with change but so much of what some IT Executives still struggle with is that they still have solutions "lobbed over the fence" for IT to implement and make work.

Dec 17, 2009 4:08 PM Richard Richard  says:

Does other "business leaders" mean executives/directors on or reporting to the company board? Very often IT is treated as an operational issue, the boards are told by CEO/CFO's that it's all great. Rarely do you see a CIO on the board. Who on the board takes responsibility if the IT isn't up to scratch and the business suffers at some point? The answer is everyone on the board. I usually ask to speak to the CIO/CTO's when joining the board of a new company. I've been feed the "it's all great" line too often.


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