Competing CIO Roles – Managing the Inherent Tension

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Each of us plays multiple roles and many of these roles compete with each other for our attention. How successfully we manage those together determines our effectiveness. CIOs too play multiple roles and more often than not, a few of these roles take more attention than a few others. This means CIOs do certain things better than certain other things. In the current changing scenario, managing a plethora of roles subsequently is an important determinant of overall success.

In this section, I would like to share a framework I have developed based on an extensive research. Though a lot has been written about CIO roles, a framework that puts them in a perspective and explains the inherent difficulties in managing them has been missing.

The Competing CIO Roles Matrix is based upon identification of the various CIO roles in my doctoral thesis and putting them in a perspective. The perspective of competing roles is inspired by the Competing Values Theory by Quinn and Cameron.

I intend to address that gap by developing the Competing CIO Roles Matrix (Figure).

The Matrix is built on two dimensions

1. The focus of the CIO’s role (internal to the IT function or department and external to the larger organization) and

2. The CIO’s actions (influencing others to convince or motivate and doing the operational tasks).

The extreme values for the two dimensions explain the first level of tension – focusing more on internal means focusing less on external or focusing more on operational tasks means focusing less on influencing.

The second-level tension is inherent between the diagonal quadrants. For example, focusing more on influencing external stakeholders means focusing less on doing internal tasks. Similarly, focusing more on influencing internal team members means focusing less on doing external tasks.

The tension is explained by the fact that different approaches, skills and competencies are required for each quadrant and there is limited availability of time and other resources.

The two extreme values for each of the two dimensions provide us with four role categories.
1. CIO as a People Manager – focusing on the human aspects of motivating, caring, supporting, and developing both self and others in the CIO’s team. Critical Competency Required- A Human Orientation and Understanding of Human Behavior

2. CIO as an Operations Manager – focusing on various day-to-day decisions regarding the IT Infrastructure. Critical Competency Required – Technical Knowledge, Project Management Skills

3. CIO as a Business Manager – focusing on communicating with the internal clients, building and delivering IT system as per their requirements. Critical Competency Required – Ability to Communicate, Ability to Sense and Take Feedback, Ability to Serve and Manage Clients

4. CIO as a Change Leader – focusing on spending time with the CEO and other top management team members, understanding their needs, creating win-win propositions, getting critical buy-ins, and so forth.
Critical Competency Required – Strategic Thinking, Understanding of Dealing with Power, Ability to Persuade, Ability to Initiate and Lead Change

Very often it has been noted that the CIO focuses more on one or two of these competing roles, thus compromising on the other roles. And more often than not, the CIO focuses on the internal IT function and within that may be either only on the people development, motivation, or on the internal operational tasks. I have observed that many CIOs find that to be comfortable and hence it gets difficult to move out of their comfort zone.

So how does a CIO deal with the demands of these competing roles?

I present three ways, which may help the CIO do so.

1. Self-Assessment and development – understanding one’s current role focus, determine if it’s skewed toward few roles, introspecting to gauge the reasons and focusing on skill development

2. Time Spacing – synchronizing the roles to focus on all the four roles over time, if not simultaneously

3. Delegating – developing second in-command individuals in the team, who can focus on different roles at the same time. This will ensure that all the four roles are addressed and the CIO can focus on the more strategic ones.

It is pertinent to ask oneself
• Which of these four roles am I playing more than the others?
• What implications does it have on my role effectiveness?
• What is the reason for skewed focus on certain roles? What can I do about it?
• What specific skills do I need to learn?
• How shall I do that?
• Do I need external help to self-assess and develop?

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