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Many CIOs have prepared a solid but fairly conservative plan for the year ahead and their teams are already 'heads down' and delivering. It's a great time now to step outside the day-to-day and think about 'what else?'

Great uncertainty and turbulence will characterise 2012. In response, many CIOs have prepared a solid but fairly conservative plan for the year ahead and their teams are already ‘heads down’ and delivering. It’s a great time now to step outside the day-to-day and think about “what else?” What ideas could you apply to raise your own performance and that of your team to a distinctively higher level? This year, CIOs must strike and continually adjust a careful balance between short-term, high-impact initiatives and long-term strategies, while nurturing and sustaining their people and organisational resources.

Here are some simple and achievable ideas drawn from discussions with IT and business leaders and from the insight of Gartner analysts that I hope will inspire you to develop distinctively superior performance.

Do something outside your personal comfort zone

A foundational goal of development for executive leaders is to expand their effective working styles — in other words, to become familiar with the unknown. It’s important that CIOs continually stretch beyond their comfort zones. For example:

Practice communicating by telling stories like the best executive communicators do.

Set a stretch goal, such as to build your understanding of different business cultures by spending two weeks working at a business unit, customer or supplier outside your home continent and preferably at a different point in the economic cycle from your own. For example, if you are from Australia or New Zealand, go to China or Brazil, and if you are from India or China, go to Europe or the US.

Harvest downtime valuation

Most CIOs are always on the lookout for better ways to show that IT adds clear and measurable business value. However, they often fail to exploit a rich source of such information – the complaints you receive every time a system experiences an outage and business is impacted. The paradox is that those complaints demonstrate the very value of the system that is hard to measure at any other time. This is particularly true for older systems that still cost money to operate. Only when they fail, do people see the value. You might hear:

"I can't book that revenue. If it isn't done today, it will end up in the next month."

"I can't issue these offer letters. We have the best graduates ready to join, but they have offers from our competitors, too — we might lose them!"

Have someone in your team browse the system outage complaint emails from users once a quarter to harvest such value stories and use them to explain how unchanging, daily operational systems provide business value — while still emphasising your commitment to system reliability of course.

Create a motivation and retention program

Engage peoples' goodwill and initiative. After years of difficult conditions and with the prospect of more or worse to come, careful, individualised attention in 2012 will be demanded. Many CIOs will have to ask people to do more of the same with fewer resources and less time.

Spend regular, quality one-on-one time with each of your direct reports to hear their concerns, coach them, and demonstrate they're valued as individuals and as team members, and encourage them to do the same for their direct reports. Help IT staff to think of themselves as businesspeople by negotiating with other enterprise leaders for short-duration job swaps and customer-facing experience.

Consider a non-executive directorship

The death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs in 2011 gave many executives pause for serious thought. How many years of productive career time do you have left, and what will you do with it?

One view that Steve Jobs held was that people should challenge themselves to learn interesting things that might be useful in the future — even if they don't know how those things will help. With that in mind, many more CIOs should look for non-executive positions on external boards of directors to broaden perspective and gain valuable business skills — something only 10 to 20 percent of CIOs do today.

Plan for public risks

When was your last business continuity plan developed? Today's business threats may not play out the same as the terrorist and pandemic threats of the past decade. Long and bitter strikes, civil unrest, or interruptions to banking and payment systems would have different characteristics. Can you track and trace your people during times of trouble? How would you cope if frayed international trading relationships interrupted the free flow of goods, such as computers?

Spend half a day with senior colleagues reviewing all the countries you and your suppliers operate in, where the big financial and political threats reside, how your enterprise might be affected and how you would respond.

Make time to explore emerging technologies

CIOs must keep up with technologies that can be appreciated only if they are seen or experienced. For example, wireless power, voice and audio recognition, mobile payment systems, newer web application programming languages, ultra-low-cost tablets, even the new wave of personal health activity monitors. Choose some of these, and set aside time to get in touch with them personally. Have fun.

Linda Price is group vice-president, executive programmes, Gartner. Email comments to To comment on this article, please email the editor.

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Tags Gartnercio agenda 2012new cioCIO rolelinda price

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