Why CIOs Must Negotiate before Collaboration

Several CIOs questioned my last post and why The Most Important Job of the CIO is to Negotiate with the Business  and not collaboration or partnership?  So before I get into how CIOs can establish credibility, let me elaborate a bit on my last post. My rationale on negotiation before collaboration is quite simple:
  • Before you can collaborate and have a true partnership between Business and Technology, the Technology Team has to have credibility and a strong record of delivery. Once the technology team is credible with a well understood delivery model, Business Managers have a lot more incentive to invest their time to consult with Technologists on their future plans. This consultation is the basis for collaboration and partnership.
  • In order to get to credibility and a strong record of delivery, a CIO must develop an executable strategy. Unfortunately this can be a daunting task if the Business hasn't prioritized its needs or developed service level expectations. 
  • Worse yet, if the Business doesn't have an internal process for prioritizing and managing its needs, projects, and investments - if it doesn't have an operational review process to insure that specific business/IT processes and systems are functioning normally it will be the CIO's job to either establish these processes or sponsor them. Many CIOs understand this situation when this prioritization does not exist - it's when the Business expects to get all projects done and keep the lights on often with a limited budget.
  • The first discussions on priorities can be difficult. It may be the first time business and project leads openly discuss the merits of their projects. Managers may be in denial on the need to prioritize based on resource constraints. It may take multiple discussions for managers to recognize the need to invest time and resources to make system upgrades or process improvements. In these discussions, it is critical for the CIO to largely play impartial on the merits of one project vs. another, but be capable and ready to negotiate an achievable set of priorities. 
  • Negotiating priorities is a finesse game. It's about demonstrating constraints without saying "no". It's about asking good questions when requirements look imbalanced with business needs. It's helping business leaders to acknowledge other needs. It's a difficult skill to master, and it must be learned and executed differently in every organization.
So in my experience, this soft negotiation of priorities is necessary first step to IT execution. Once priorities are set and the Tech team is executing, negotiation evolves to collaboration.

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