The whole notion of an enterprise chief information officer (CIO) or chief technology officer (CTO) is obsolete. As technology itself decentralizes — regardless of formal organizational structures — there will be multiple technology experts/specialists/leaders. There are already “go-to” technology experts, leaders, and, yes, even “chiefs” in every business unit, every business pod, and surrounding every business process. They are seldom part of the central IT organization, and if they are, their loyalties are aligned more with the business units than with their “boss,” the enterprise CIO. In fact, time and time again I’ve seen “assigned” technologists commiserate much more with their business units than with the IT organizations to which they belong or with their official bosses. This becomes a major problem in many weakly governed organizations where financial incentives are tied directly to what business units say about their enterprise technology partners. Business relationship managers follow the money and will abandon the mother ship if the pot at the other end of the rainbow has the most gold. (This is actually worse than it sounds: many “assigned” BU technologists openly criticize their CIO bosses and overtly and covertly undermine their company’s IT organization. Business relationship management leaders often find themselves managing their technology designates far more than BU technology projects, designates who are sometimes seen as nothing more than “traitors.”)
Technology leadership should be shared across the enterprise and the business units. But there’s another leadership competency that should be emphasized: domain expertise. In the past we could silo technologies and business processes, but today business and technology are inseparable and indistinguishable. The most effective business technology partners are wide and deep in both technology and business. Trust comes from credibility, and credibility comes from knowledge and, of course, integrity. If you can hold your own with a BU president and a CIO, you’re likely to be a respected, trusted colleague — assuming you have some personal integrity.
Attitude is as important as any leadership quality. Years ago there was often an “us against them” attitude across the enterprise and the BUs. Things were competitive. They were aggressive. I cannot remember all the times I refereed fights between my IT team and teams in the business units about what should or should not be done. We forced governance onto the BUs even if we didn’t always believe it was the right thing to do: rules were rules. Today and forever, the attitude should be cooperative and participatory. Note that this change may not work for some old-timers who may never accept participatory democracy. For trust to grow, attitudes must change from “It’s us against them” to “We’re all in this together.”
Compensation models must also adjust. Financial and other rewards should be defined for participatory governance and team-based solutions development, and punishments should be imposed upon those unwilling to work together. Trust can be created and reinforced by the right incentives and punishments. Raises, budgets, and bonuses can be linked directly to the extent that solutions are participatory and collaborative. Colleagues who fail to collaborate should receive very little financial reward for their behavior, while those who participate and collaborate extensively should receive the lion’s share of the bonus pool.
Finally, there needs to be accountability. In tightly governed organizations, or organizations with no governance at all, there’s often no accountability. Leadership without accountability is unpredictable and unfair. Accountability focuses everyone, but it is often hard to find — especially in larger organizations. Organizations governed in a participatory way can distribute accountability across the participants.
Trust demands accountability. If I tell you that the project will be done on time and I miss the deadline by a country mile, you should hold me accountable for the miss. If you don’t, I will miss another deadline, and another one, and so on, until you take me to task for my sloppiness. If you never hold me accountable, I have no incentive to improve. But if you do, I will improve my performance — or be financially punished. Trust is inextricably tied to accountability, and accountability should be linked to incentives.
Photo: David Spinks via Creative Commons license.