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Make a positive impact

Excelling at challenging decisions distinguishes great leaders from their peers.

If you make only one New Year’s resolution, make it to adopt a decision making style that will lead to quality organisational outcomes, build your political capital and enhance your personal reputation. In my last column, I discussed a recent Gartner Executive Programs research publication about making and surviving difficult CIO decisions, written by vice president and research director Tina Nunno. She identified the following four types of decision-making challenges: • Decision roles and ownership;

• Leading sound decision making across the IT organisation;

• Successfully participating in enterprise decision making;

• Successfully making the most difficult CIO decisions.

I looked at the first two types of decision-making - those that pertain to activities within the IT organisation. The other two types of decision-making, participating in enterprise decision making and making the most difficult CIO decisions, are even more critical to your success as a CIO.

The most challenging CIO decisions are those needing cooperation across many stakeholders. These decisions typically involve an unpopular change or adverse employee situations. It’s a fortunate CIO indeed who can say they have never found themselves at odds with other executives regarding a difficult decision. Especially in large centralised IT organisations with many powerful business unit stakeholders, where the CIO needs to have effective mechanisms for managing challenging decision-making and maintaining political harmony.

One of the key success factors to making sound decisions involving many organisational stakeholders is to realise that not all decisions are the same. Each decision brings a different set of variables to assess and a different judgement call to make regarding the relative importance of each variable. The variables that most frequently apply are represented in the CIO decision formula.

CIO decision formula

CIO decision success = f (context, trust, timing, politics)

(luck, proof)

Context. All CIO decisions must begin with the business and CIO context. Some of the variables relevant to these two elements are outside of the CIO’s control, while others can be shaped by the CIO (see below).

Business and CIO context variables

Business

Business case – usually includes summary of IT direction, risk and ROI calculations.

History – the enterprises history with IT can influence current behaviour and is worth understanding.

Culture – enterprise risk tolerance is a critical cultural dimension for the CIO to understand. CIO

Decision role – CIOs must choose their role in a decision: observer, advisor, broker or owner.

Experience – can aid decision-making but care needs to be taken, as no two decisions are the same.

Instinct – intuitive power or emotion to guide decision-making, usually used as a tie-breaking variable.

Trust. Trust is central to the CIO decision formula. The key components of trust in the CIO include: perception of the CIO and whether or not the CIO’s reputation as a leader and contributor to the enterprise is strong; perception of IT and whether or not it is seen as a contributor to business value; and credibility based on a history of performing to expectations.

Timing. A key challenge is to know when to make a decision yourself – and when to involve others in it. Savvy CIOs use timing to their advantage. They may elevate a project’s priority by creating a sense of urgency, or slow a poorly considered decision by calming the waters. Balancing short- and long-term stakeholder requirements is both an art and a science.

Politics. “Politics” has negative connotations. However, at its core, politics is the process by which individuals and groups make decisions and resolve conflicts. CIOs can encounter one of four landmines in their decision making: competition for scarce financial or staff resources; changing processes that effectively changes control processes; issues regarding the status of those impacted by changes driven by IT; and the threatening of core organisational beliefs by data able to be exposed by IT. Experienced CIOs predict these landmines and develop strategies for managing them.

Luck. Luck and proof are the common denominators in the CIO decision-making equation for good reason. Whereas luck pertains to events outside the control of the CIO, luck needs to be mitigated as much as possible by the collection of enough information to make sound decisions, leaving as little as possible to chance.

Proof. This consists of evidence in support of the decision outcome and may be gathered at any point in the decision-making process. Examples are financial data, system performance data, business performance data, testimonials from CIO peers and IT customers, pilots and innovation experiments.

Most CIOs work in sophisticated environments where they must manage a high degree of complexity in job role, responsibilities and stakeholders. Conflicting priorities frequently place the CIO in situations requiring them to make difficult decisions. By considering the variables in the CIO decision-making formula, and applying personal judgement regarding the relevance of each to a particular situation, CIOs can greatly improve their chances of making a positive impact and enhancing their personal reputation in the organisation.

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

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