Transforming Organizations with Transformational Relationships

4 minute read

Perhaps more than any other executive, the Chief Information Officer transforms organizations through building relationships.

Relationships among fellow C-suite executives.

Relationships within the IT department.

Relationships across the organization.

Relationships between your organization and its customers.

These personal relationships drive your transformation. And the best way to build those relationships is to understand people. Beginning with the C-suite - because if you can’t convince them, you’re dead in the water.

You’ll find your biggest champions in the C-suite. And you’ll also find your biggest critics. This is why the relationships here are so crucial. Without the foundation of good relationships with your peers, you can’t expect a smooth organizational transformation – or any sort of transformation at all.

What are their thoughts about the role technology plays in the business?

Is technology viewed as an asset or a drain on financial resources?

Are technology platforms user friendly?

Which IT functions are outsourced?

Which functions are kept in-house?

Does technology drive the business?

What, exactly, is the CIO’s role in all of this?

We’re experiencing a paradigm shift in the business world today – transitioning from an industrial business model to a data driven model. And it’s within this model that the CIO emerges not just as an IT leader but as a business driver.

IT leaders have the power to drive the business forward more than anyone else in the organization.

Today’s jobs require technology. Employers equip workers with computers, laptops, and smart phone apps.

Enterprise-wide software gives staff access to documents, data and each other.

These obvious examples are just the tip of the iceberg in a data-driven organization.

So, what makes a CIO a successful business driver?

To get a sense of what works, it’s helpful to look at the situation through the eyes of an executive recruiter. If you know someone who specializes in recruiting technology roles, like Martha Heller of Heller Search Associates, all the better. Martha Heller founded and lead IDG’s CIO Executive Council and wrote for CIO Magazine before founding Heller Search Associates in 2010. She knows the CIO role well. And she knows what CIO’s look for in an ideal company culture.

Crossfuze recently hosted a webinar where Martha discussed the ideal CIO and the ideal CIO environment. You can watch it here.      

Here are some nuggets of wisdom from Martha’s webinar for the CIO who’s ready to transform their organization.


Be sure to get a seat at the C-suite table.

By title, CIO implies C-suite executive. You lead the IT department as a C-suite executive. In a perfect world, the CIO reports to the CEO. But the CIO is also a newer role in many organizations. The C-suite may not be entirely sure where the CIO role fits. And, because IT feels “operational” the CIO ends up reporting to the COO.

The thing is, you can’t transform the organization unless you’re a full part of the leadership team. That means you need to be on a level playing field with the other executives. Today, technology touches every single part of an organization, much like finance and operations do. And technology has the power to streamline processes and increase profits. But if your C-suite peers don’t see you as a member, you’ll feel more like Sisyphus than Michelangelo. Investigate the C-suite structure before and during the interview process. A CIO is going to be more effective if they report directly to the CEO and if IT is viewed as an integral part of the organization – rather than an afterthought.


Find the common thread.

Even though they lead different functions, C-suite executives share commonalities too. Business acumen, strategic thinking, team development skills, project execution, transparency and communication are crucial in every C-suite role. Take what you have in common with your peers and use the common ground to help them see your vision. As the CIO, your vision will probably look very different from the rest of your team’s. Acknowledge the difference and use your understanding of business to demonstrate how your transformation aligns with your peers’ vision.

Being a full part of the C-suite gives you access to the executives who can make or break an IT culture change. By building relationships with your team members, you’ll get a sense for what drives them. Use that information to help drive your transformation. If your team members feel like their needs are being met, they’ll be more likely to champion your vision.


Add value to your organization.

With so much relying on cloud technology these days, security is a huge concern.

But what if you don’t have a seat in the C-suite? How do you prove your worth?

Organizations are quickly moving from the industrial model to the data-driven model. As a new player, you’ve got to speak the language of both models.

If you want to build a relationship with the C-suite executives, you need to speak their language. Instead of using IT speak, use business speak to explain the transformation. You may be an IT expert but if you can’t illustrate your vision in terms of business, you’ll lose your audience. That means understanding business, understanding what drives the CEO and the CFO, and understanding how IT can help drive the company’s vision. You find a problem and show how technology solves it.

It takes time. And time takes patience.

If you can do the heavy lifting and make it easy for your C-suite peers to understand how IT can make them profitable, you’ll win their respect and the coveted C-suite seat.


Develop your team.

Today’s healthiest organizations are full of big picture thinkers. Specialization is becoming a thing of the past. And long gone are the days when IT was a room full of techies whose jobs simply consisted of fielding help-desk calls and running to workstations to rescue the technologically challenged. In order to truly transform an organization, assemble a team of futurists who have the vision and creativity to think way beyond the tangible.


Be a communicator.

A CIO must be a communication professional. Know who you are talking to. How you communicate with IT may look different from how you would communicate with the C-suite. And both ways probably look very different from how you would communicate with other functional areas. Know your audience and shape your message so that the audience can get the information you need them to get in a way that works best for them.

At the end of the day, when you transform the organization, your systems increase productivity and profit. But as CIO, your role is to create that vision and communicate that vision to the rest of the team. And it’s up to you to convince them to buy in to your vision – as “out there” as that vision might be. And that transformation begins with relationships. Good leaders build the relationships first so that they have the trust they need to transform the organization.

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