CIO Leadership

Beat The Odds And Drive Company Growth As A CIO

Do CIOs drive growth? No and yes. And where it is a yes, they focus on six critical areas.

Scott Smeester

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October 12, 2023

Do CIOs drive growth? No and yes. And where it is a yes, they focus on six critical areas.

Sometimes we buy a lie.

It’s subtle, wrapped in language commonly accepted, so that what we know makes it easier to believe what someone else thinks they know.

When most of our thoughts are the ideas and ways of doing things that we have commonly accepted, we get into trouble.

I came across this recently in an article. To be clear, I liked the article because it is thought-provoking. I disliked the article because it can be misleading.

Here is the assertion upon which the article is based:

“According to a recent Forrester prediction, only 10% of tech executives will be successful at driving long-term growth, primarily because the 90% are focused on delivery and quality, or they do not have shared accountabilities with the business.”

The sky is falling.

Let me give you the punchline before I raise some issues: Yes, we as CIOs drive growth.

But the phrase “drive long-term growth” can be misleading. First, it likely assumes growth in terms of profit and not necessarily health. Second, it assumes the CIO to be in a captain’s chair. 

When last I looked, that seat was already occupied. 

I don’t want to tangle with words, so I’m fine with the word drive. I used it in the article title. To be clear, failure to achieve long-term growth in the eyes of most board members results in the CEO’s head on the block. You will not drive growth beyond the border of your CEO.

Yet.

We are partners. And we are given keys to take the company and her business leaders out for a spin. In that sense, we drive: we lead our company leaders from where they are to where they need to be.

To be overly clear, and I argue this profusely, you must be in the eyes of your CEO the key leader with whom they work. 

How do you work with your CEO to drive company growth? 

You have three Internal Arenas and three External Arenas in which to drive in.

External Arenas

First, to drive growth, you steer toward the Customer. You power their experience. 

Question: Do you understand the customer need that your counterparts are seeking to serve, or do you rely on being responsive to what they say they need? If you want to be in the Forrester 10%, or blow that number away, you must understand the customer journey.

Anytime you are proactively solving for a better customer experience, you are in the driver’s seat.

Second, to drive growth, you lean into the disruptive technologies, not necessarily the trends. You know the difference. A trend comes and goes, and while with us, is popular. A disruptive technology changes the way things are done, and is not always popular. It’s just massive.

Embrace the massive. Know it better so that you can see it broadly - the impact it can have in giving your company a competitive edge. Think AI. No CIO in a driver’s seat is ignoring her. Your competitors certainly are not. 

Third, rely on your peer communities. I can’t tell you how many times in our CIO Mastermind groups a member will raise the question, “What are you doing (or have done) about…..?” 

Members have been spared hundreds of thousands of dollars, redundancy of work, and corporate headaches from peers who are in the same trenches. 

To drive growth, audit where you put your focus. If customer experience, knowledge of disruptive technology, and peer interaction scores low, the sky may very well fall on you. I believe better of you.

Internal Arenas

I heard the phrase “perform while you transform.” I like it.

CIOs who drive growth prioritize the capacity of their team. Primarily, that means that core processes exhibit operational efficiencies, that costs are reduced as possible and justified always, and that talent is mobilized and developed.

I was coaching a CIO this week who admitted that the company has outgrown the capacity of his team to be responsive, let alone proactive. 

How would you assess your team’s capacity to keep up with and more, to pace company growth?

CIOs also obsess on product quality. You can only afford to put out the best. And with an eye on product, you are knowledgeable about what your businesses are trying to accomplish so that you can develop unified solutions where applicable. We still must break the silos.

Looking back over the past couple of years, what, if anything, is a product whose quality was sacrificed for the sake of speed or pressure to release?

Finally, CIOs who drive growth continue to optimize and educate. Automations, algorithms, and applications that lead to more effective work is the oil to the engine that you drive (with security embedded in all three). And with them come your opportunity to educate on technology movements that leaders need to understand and adopt. 

I’m aggressive. I lead first. I get ahead of things. I don’t mind those qualities. 

But if I assume that as a CIO I’m responsible to drive growth, I could be buying a lie. Frankly, that isn’t my place.

But I do drive growth to the degree that I understand what growth looks like and I work with the business to get it done. I’ve given you six areas that are crucial:

  • Customer
  • Disruptive technology
  • Peer community
  • Team capacity
  • Product quality
  • Optimization and education

Focus there and the skies stay blue.

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