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8 traits of highly efficient CIOs

8 traits of highly efficient CIOs

Efficient IT leaders are better positioned to avoid mistakes while achieving key goals rapidly and effectively.

With the range and volume of responsibilities they must shoulder, every CIO aims for maximum efficiency in their work. After all, efficient IT leaders are better positioned to avoid mistakes while achieving key goals rapidly and effectively.

Efficient CIOs also work hard to generate maximum business value, an attribute that management colleagues are sure to notice and appreciate.

Being efficient means producing high-quality, sustainable, and expected outcomes on time and on budget, says Christopher Kowalsky, an adjunct professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy.

Efficient CIOs work hard to streamline their duties, focusing on reliable ways of achieving maximum results within a minimal timeframe so they can quickly move onto their next task. They know that just a handful of efficiency techniques can have a major impact on their organisations and careers.

Leadership efficiency is a career-long commitment. Here are eight ways IT leaders create efficiency in their own work, thereby improving their long-term career prospects.

1. They trust their leadership team

CIOs have many responsibilities, but they can’t do everything. That’s why it’s important to build a talented leadership team and to trust its members to handle specific delegated tasks.

Jay Upchurch, executive vice president and CIO at software developer SAS, says that his leadership team gives him the freedom to delegate tasks and to trust that assigned tasks will be done on-time and with high quality. “It also helps me focus on the big initiatives and creates time for me to lead,” he explains. “Over time, we’ve developed trust plus a rhythm and comfort level that allows us work together seamlessly.”

Upchurch believes that efficiency suffers whenever a CIO feels that it’s important to know every detail of every product or service, understand every emerging technology, and read every management book. “If you spend all your time chasing that stuff, you’ll lose sight of the big priorities for your organisation,” he says.

2. They plan meetings for maximum effectiveness

Whenever possible, efficient CIOs schedule and plan meetings in advance, giving themselves and team members plenty of time to prepare. “Make the meeting schedule a public and transparent part of IT governance,” advises Bill VanCuren, CIO at software and services company NCR.

The meeting calendar should maintain a balance of business, supplier/partner, project management office, and IT staff gatherings, VanCuren says. “Also keep empty spots on the calendar to allow for surprises or crisis management meetings that come along with the job.”

3. They create an operations playbook

Every CIO needs to build an operations playbook, says Anil Cheriyan, CTO and executive vice president of strategy at professional services firm Cognizant.

The playbook should set and define agendas, content, and metrics for all CIO responsibilities, including business capability demand and delivery, investment governance, financials, talent, and cybersecurity risk. “Establishing this regular cadence immediately allows the CIO to efficiently oversee day-to-day operations,” he says.

With a foundational playbook in place, CIOs establish a solid framework for daily management. “Thus, they can spend more time driving innovation with internal and external partners,” Cheriyan says. “Moreover, when the playbook is operational, the IT team is better aligned on a common set of priorities, expectations, and outcomes.”

Without a playbook, CIOs tend to chase “rabbits,” Cheriyan says. “They lose sight of priorities and can get stuck engaging in endless debates on low-priority issues or dealing with poor team dynamics resulting from unclear responsibilities or expectations.”

4. They cultivate future leaders

Efficient and effective CIOs build and maintain contingency plans for times when they, or a key leader/expert, is absent, says Ola Chowning, a partner with technology research and advisory firm ISG. “Practice those plans by delegating unexpectedly,” she advises. Identify and select potential leaders from a pool of candidates.

Leadership contingency planning should be used to build new levels of leadership by giving top team members decision-making responsibilities and a sense of accountability. “It also frees the CIO to focus on the highest-priority decisions while building a bottom-up … decision culture,” Chowning says.

The decision timeline is always faster when it’s positioned closer to the actual work, and just as often correct, Chowning says. “It allows staff to feel confident in their ability to make decisions while limiting the unnecessary and often multi-step dilemma that often happens with hierarchical or chain decision-making,” she notes.

5. They prepare

Brook Colangelo, White House CIO during the Obama Administration, is a strong believer in ‘read-aheads’ — detailed agendas and materials prepared well in advance of key meetings. “These [notes] are a must so you can understand the issues … before making any decisions,” he says.

Colangelo, currently CIO at analytical laboratory instrument and software company Waters Corp., says his organisation places an emphasis on being thoughtful and mindful. 

“When it comes to key meetings, whether inside our team or with other stakeholders, read-aheads are crucial to ensuring people have ample time to prepare and reflect on how to make decisions.” The approach also ensures that CIOs don’t waste time scheduling repeat meetings to cover topics that were missed during the initial go-round.

6. They banish breakdowns

Responding reactively to breakdowns, including failures in IT systems, security, team structure, or even content classification and governance, is a sure-fire time waster.

CIOs should assess systems and processes long before a breakdown occurs, suggests Ellen Benaim, CISO of document generation platform provider Templafy. “They need to take stock of the tools making an impact on their organisation’s overall efficiency, security posture, and bottom line,” she says.

Benaim notes that it’s also important to take advantage of new products, services, and policies that can replace clunky, inefficient predecessors. 

“Whether it’s swapping out a spreadsheet for a database collaboration tool to streamline department-wide expense management, or turning to a content enablement solution to ensure more efficient document generation, the smartest CIOs lean on technology to keep up with today’s fast-paced business environment and look down the line to prepare for what’s next.”

7. They embrace automation

Automation improves CIO and team efficiency by reducing the number of time-consuming tasks. As enterprises dive deeper into sophisticated digital technologies, there’s been an exponential increase in complexity facing both IT teams and their leaders. Automation can make life simpler and easier.

Automation boosts efficiency by reducing the number of repetitive tasks and potential errors. “An augmented, more automated way of working minimises the occurrence and/or time needed to correct mistakes,” says Greg Bentham, vice president of cloud infrastructure services and corporate social responsibility for business advisory firm Capgemini Americas.

“Further, automated dashboards and visualisation, which should be part of any workflow automation initiative, can provide an ‘at a glance view’ of the health and effectiveness of the ecosystem.”

Efficient CIOs realise that time is their most precious commodity. “They understand that employees bogged down with repetitive and mundane tasks have a lower probability of bringing innovation and creativity to the workplace, or worse, may become disengaged,” Bentham says.

8. They become Lean and Agile

CIOs need to emphasise work prioritisation and avoid needless task switching, which is a huge efficiency killer, says Steve Padgett, CIO at Actian, a hybrid data management, cloud integration, and analytics products provider.

Borrowing a page from their development teams, CIOs can build efficiency by adopting Agile and Lean techniques to tackle projects and tasks. “Start one task and see it through to completion, then start on another task,” he suggests. “Focusing on one task at a time before moving on to the next also fits in well with other IT management practices and processes.”

As they strive for maximum efficiency, it’s important for CIOs to consider ways of moving projects forward in the least amount of time. “Employees, likewise, will be more productive with fewer meetings to attend and more focus time,” Padgett concludes.


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