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How CIOs Can Get The Right Seat At The Table

Getting a seat at the table is a great CIO ambition. Getting the right seat at the right tables is a better goal

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As a CIO, you’ve probably thought: “I need to get a seat at the table. How do I make it happen?” It’s a question Gartner hears from CIOs in every industry and geography, in for- and non-profit organizations of every size.

Getting a seat at the table is a great ambition. But many CIOs don’t understand what it really means. What table are we talking about? What does “having a seat” even mean? Why should IT sit at the table?

Which tables and when

There are many “tables” where you should be sitting. Goals, strategies and initiatives are established by the senior executive team, business unit leaders and executives in functional areas. The first step is to locate all of the important teams, committees and boards to ensure IT is contributing to where it’s needed.

Then determine what it means to “sit at the table”? Should you be an official member of a given leadership team, involved with all management aspects of that function? Or should you just sit in when executives need information or guidance because information and technology are critical to a given situation, decision or plan?

Be aware that these positions take a lot of time and energy. To sit at the more demanding tables, you’ll have to do less in some areas.

What will your position be?

Gartner has identified four positions IT can establish with the leadership of any business unit or team.

  1. Contributor. Respond to functional area requests for IT capabilities and support.
  2. Consultant. Provide on-demand input to support functional challenges, providing expertise and options.
  3. Teammate. Participate in defined executive activities, ensuring a technology perspective is applied to goal setting, business strategy and major execution challenges.
  4. Team member. Serve as a member of the executive team supporting all major management processes.

Gartner recommends CIOs go after active positions such as teammate or team member where strategies require major capability changes (digital optimization) or new business designs (digital transformation), where CIO leadership is critical. If the enterprise’s digital ambitions are just getting started, you have a great opportunity to contribute expertise and insight, and even guide the development of new business options.

Perform as a business executive

Success requires more than just sitting at the table. You must know what you need to contribute, what “language” is spoken, what the cadence and responsibility of the team are. You must be prepared to deliver the requirements needed to succeed.

The most important aspect is to perform as a business executive. Every enterprise functional area or capability needs information and technology to perform its mission. The leaders of these organizations need IT intelligence, input, advice and guidance from you to support their planning and management processes.

Expect hurdles

A major barrier to establishing the right position may be the existing relationship between business and IT. Business leaders’ view of the role IT plays in the success of their domain is often based on historical relationships and past performance. IT is often relegated to a relationship of: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

These situations often occur because the CIO and IT leaders have accepted a tactical relationship. They haven’t done the preparation work needed to be welcomed or successful when they are asked to join.

If you want a seat at the table, you need a plan to make it happen. It’s a prioritization effort — invest time and energy where there is the greatest need. Don’t be as active on teams where the impact potential and legitimate need for IT is less.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
cio leadership technology it leaders

Irving Tyler

The author is Research Vice President at Gartner.

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