Two additional models for CTO/CIO behavior

Although the Five Pillars of Purview are a useful framework for what amounts to functional decomposition of the CTO/CIO role, let’s take a step back, or higher, and look at the meta-behaviors that the senior technology executive needs to exhibit in order to succeed. These augment the Five Pillars by lending them some philosophical background. The Five Pillars are categories for your personal To Do list, as it were; the models I’m about to discuss come closer to being questions about the meaning and purpose of it all.

In one job, I used to put the following two points into each and every department presentation I did as CTO, because I felt that they’re useful insights for every worker, not just executives. They boil down to these two questions:

  • What does management expect of you?
  • What should you expect of management?

Most workers, and even executives, really couldn’t give you a pithy answer to either of those questions. If pressed, their answer to the first question would tend just to list their performance goals (if any); their answer to the second question would tend to be generic discussion of qualities such as leadership, decision-making, and vision.

None of that is necessarily wrong or bad, but I prefer to state the answers in the following way:

What management expects of you is that you constantly show that you’re in control. Nothing is more of a relief to a manager (supervisor, director, executive, chief executive) than to feel that your area is well-handled and that you are both watchful for crises and quick to act when crises arise. The emphasis here, of course, is on the word “show.” It’s not enough to talk a good game; you have to back it up with specific actions and metrics that demonstrate that the talk is real. The further up you go in management, the more important this precept is. Those executives who aren’t perceived to be in solid control of their area don’t tend to last long.

What you should expect of management is that they fulfill their principal and most important function, which is the proper allocation of resources. As I always point out, most managers aren’t there to perform “real” work, and I don’t mean that pejoratively. One of the absolutely key success criteria for any endeavor falls to the management of that endeavor: that work is prioritized appropriately to the needs of the business, and that the correct and sufficient resources are then assigned or allocated to that work. As a senior leader in information technology, you have the most direct insight into, and the most influence on, determining that resource allocation, and you should regard that responsibility as top-tier in your many-sided role.

There’s one more useful model, philosophically, to consider as you go about assessing and performing your job. This one came from a job applicant for one of my directorships, and I thought it particularly insightful:
The senior technology leader really can boil down all of his responsibilities and tasks into three main areas or charters. These areas pretty much cover everything from the point of direct contribution to the forward momentum of the company in general, and they’re simple to express:

  • Ensure current revenue;
  • Facilitate the addition of new revenue;
  • Cut costs

The first area (“ensure current revenue”) covers operations and maintenance. The second (“facilitate the addition of new revenue”) covers new systems and new development. The last (“cut costs”) covers the implicit and ongoing charter you have to streamline operations to a bare minimum: just enough to get the job done and no more.

We all need a To Do list (as represented by the categories of the Five Pillars). But equally, we have to have a sense of “what’s it all for?” The two meta-models covered here have helped me keep both those aspects firmly in mind.

Lagniappe:

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  1. […] spreading the alarm? You bet it is. And doing that is in everyone’s interest. Remember my adage: show that you’re in control. Your job as project manager (and, by extension, the job of the Director of the PMO, and the CIO) […]

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