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Conversations with your CEO

Conversations with your CEO

Gartner has a saying that ‘every interaction the CIO has with the Board is an opportunity to get fired’.

You meet your CEO in the foyer and he invites you for lunch. exchange pleasantries and then the CEO notes the time of day and invites you to join him or her for lunch. Consider what you will talk to the CEO about over lunch. You have no time to prepare. This is the very reason you should always be ready for such a conversation - to leave the CEO secure in the knowledge that, in the CIO, he or she has a senior executive who is conversant with the business from a business perspective.

Gartner has a saying that “every interaction the CIO has with the Board is an opportunity to get fired". This is a very sobering colouring of what may also be an opportunity to ensure elevation of the CIO’s role, relevance and personal reputation.

Picture this scenario: You run into your organisation’s CEO about midday in the foyer. You exchange pleasantries and then the CEO notes the time of day and invites you to join him or her for lunch. Consider what you will talk to the CEO about over lunch. You have no time to prepare.

This is the very reason you should always be ready for such a conversation. Your goal must be to leave the CEO with the strong impression that, not only are IT and information requirements being skillfully met, the CIO is a senior executive who has a robust understanding of the current economic climate, the business strategy and challenges as it pertains to that climate, and how IT can be deployed to deliver new business opportunities. This is also an opportunity to elevate your role, relevance and reputation.

Consider the following possible approaches to assist with your preparation. Also consider what corporate details you should be able to weave within your discussion to demonstrate your executive credentials to your CEO. Practice seamlessly introducing data that is relevant to your company, while making a point or asking a question.

Current and historical stock price performance

Most CEOs monitor their company’s daily stock price. So CIOs of listed companies should be ready to discuss stock price performance. Relevant questions might be “To what extent, if any, are you concerned that the newly-announced corporate initiative will place this quarter’s earning target of $0.53 per share in jeopardy?” or “Do you think our currently stock trading range of $2.16 to $3.00 over the last 52 weeks reflects a true understanding by investors of the company’s value?”

Key investors

CEOs spend a great deal of time talking to investors to keep them updated on corporate activities and to respond to questions and concerns. Savvy CIOs will commit their company’s top five major investors and their investment goals to memory. This sets the scene for a fascinating and educational conversation with your CEO over lunch about the extent to which the company performance is aligning with investor goals.

Key customers

Know the names of your company’s top five to ten customers – either by revenue or profitability. These key customers may have expressed satisfaction or outlined issues to the CEO recently. A certain topic of interest for your lunch partner. Be seen to think in terms of the end customer – not just the internal customer.

Top products or services

Take this opportunity to ask the CEO how the top ten products or services are performing - by name - relative to the CEO’s expectations. This can be a revealing discussion which highlights any potential product or service changes and enhancements that could have a dramatic impact on the CIO’s current plans.

Emerging technologies

Be prepared to talk to the CEO about emerging technologies that may support new revenue streams or cost reduction. This is your perfect opportunity to define the IT organisation as not just the department that gives others tools, but an organisation that can differentiate what the company offers in the marketplace, or drive differentiation through operational efficiencies. The CEO will likely appreciate some straight talking on the topics he or she has been reading about in the airline magazine, like cloud computing, social media and media tablets. Be prepared to talk about your pursuit of the top new technologies you are following on behalf of your organisation. How do these technologies translate to business opportunities? When will they be ready? Be prepared to take a stand.

One of the most compelling findings of the 2011 Gartner CIO Survey was the correlation between the time spent with internal and external stakeholders by the most effective CIOs, and the average time spent by all CIOs with major stakeholders. The most effective CIOs spent an additional two days with major stakeholders. You will not get a better opportunity to build a relationship with your principal stakeholder than lunch with the CEO. So use this time wisely.

The goal of your lunch discussion should be to leave the CEO secure in the knowledge that, in the CIO, he or she has a senior executive who is conversant with the business from a business perspective. Be sure you can cite your company’s expected earnings-per-share target for the current fiscal quarter, your company’s largest product or service revenue or profit generators and other metrics close to your CEO’s heart. That way you will have wisely used this rare opportunity to position IT’s contribution - and your own potential.

Linda Price is group vice-president, executive programmes, Gartner. Email comments to Linda.price@gartner.com

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Tags leadershipstrategyCIO roleGartnerlinda pricecio and ceo

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