Nick's Notes

Meeting Expectations

CIOs are senior executives. Most, or perhaps these days it’s many, still have an executive assistant. I spend most of my life meeting with CIOs. So why is it so hard to get into the diary, and sometimes harder still to stay in it?

I know, you’re thinking it’s about priorities, about value. I get bounced or pushed to the outer limits because there are more important things to do. To some extent that is true – especially if I’m on a sales call. Buying a CIO Connect service may be low down the priority list for some people, although I can’t quite understand why!

But a lot of people are paying a decent sum to have my colleagues and my advice and getting value for money from us is uppermost in their minds. But we still get switched – often at quite short notice. Please note this is not a complaint – our customers have the right to change when they want to see us. But I think it is instructive to consider why.

Firstly, lets dismiss illnesses or other family crises. Stuff happens, I understand that. Rarely, and always feeling bad about it, I’ve changed meetings for those reasons, and I’ve received very nice apologetic notes from people who have had to change meetings for similar reasons.

Then there are two other reasons, similar to each other but in some way opposed. The CEO has called an unexpected meeting, or there is an urgent issue to handle within the department. On the one hand delegation has failed and on the other there is a lack of influence on dates. For a senior exec neither of those holds much water, frankly. Firstly CEOs don’t often call a meeting without all the EA’s negotiating suitable dates, and unless there is a very rare occasion – a hostile takeover bid for example – these meetings get scheduled in due course. And, of course, you’ve recruited the best team available to you, so you are happy to support them when needed but don’t need to disrupt their days, especially when there is a problem, reporting what’s going on to you, do you?

No, my observation of IT as a whole, and many CIOs, is that it’s in our DNA. We love firefighting, being a hero, solving a problem. The day to day is relatively mundane, and gets relegated whenever there is an opportunity to do so, a view that was borne out by a number of comments made at our recent workshop on Service. So be it – but there are dangers in this approach, dangers that I do know are on the radar of many CIOs.

How can IT be taken more seriously, involved in business strategy, integrating digital initiatives, driving innovation? Partly the answer is, at the top level, to be focused on the day to day work of a senior exec (including long term change) and let the inevitable technical and business crises be handled at the right level in your organisation. A ‘c’ level executive has a very different role to that of being the senior most person in a department or division. They are part of the team that is responsible for the whole organisation. That’s what your CEO does, it’s only very rarely that something is so critical that the CEO takes personal charge. Think BP Deepwater Horizon level – not a server going down (you’ve got failover and back up haven’t you – and anyway that’s your team’s problem to fix). You should concentrate on where there is serious business reputation risk.

Am I making a big leap to get to this from the evidence of frequent diary changes? Perhaps, but it might just be a mindset change that’s needed.

Share this page