CIO Leadership

The One Reason CIOs Struggle With Their Own IT Department

IT has been transforming business. Now it's time to transform itself. To do so, you have to get away from organizational thinking, and see IT as a living organism and recognize 8 areas of focus that will promote health and growth.

Scott Smeester


February 9, 2023

IT transformed the business; now IT must transform itself.

I’m a geek with executive tendencies. I love technology. I have a degree in engineering, and a resume of technology leadership. I understand CIOs because I have been one, and I understand business because I am one. 

What I am not is a scientist. 

I wish I was, or at least embraced it more than I have done. Science makes for better geeks and better executives.

Here is what I mean.

I am watching a trend develop. It isn’t new, but it seems acute in our post-pandemic leadership. The IT that you lead has been responsive to the business challenges of the past couple of years. As I’ve said before, you rose up and served beyond expectations.

But, as a result, IT ignored their own needs. In seeking to be agile, you have lost agility; in seeking to do more, you have added but not multiplied; in preaching innovation, you have not practiced adaptation.

 IT transformed the business; now IT must transform itself. 

This is where science comes in. When you seek to transform IT, you must look at IT as an organism and not just an organization.To review your biology class, an organism is living:

  • It has a genetic code that it passes down (think values).
  • It converts resources into energy
  • It makes changes to its internal environment (especially to protect itself).
  • It reproduces
  • It adapts
  • It moves

Contrast that with an unhealthy organization:

  • It loses sight of its values
  • It consumes
  • It seeks to change the external environment to protect itself
  • It keeps adding to 
  • It preserves
  • It becomes stagnant

I recently had a conversation with a company looking for help. Their IT is weighing down the business. Their instinct was to bring someone in who could fix what is broken.

But that isn’t their problem. And it is rarely the problem. I reminded them that you need a healthy environment that will sustain “living things;” environment before programs. 

To fix what is broken is organizational thinking. To create health is organism-thinking. 

Transforming IT

In order to transform IT and to thrive, you must address 8 areas for sustained health and growth:

  1. Assessment

Assessment involves more than needs analysis. Assessment is deep-dive interviewing and reviewing of people, process and technologies.You are seeking to address what needs to be maximized, improved, clarified, added and removed. 

You are assessing against, purpose, opportunity, and values. 

  1. Design of Future

Assessment translates into a preferred future. This is where structure and restructure are determined, and the paths forward are established. 

  1. Change Dynamics

People love change as long as change is toward fulfillment. What people don’t love about change is that which is senseless or useless. 

Change leadership involves rallying people, crafting plans and driving the process. 

  1. Communication Forums and Functions

Communication is the breath of transformation. Sadly, in organizations it lacks required intentionality and measurement. 

  1. Mobilize Talent

Right people. Right place. Right practice. The body is composed of a number of parts, and each part depends upon the proper function of the other.

  1. System Implementation

As a living being, you are composed of interrelated systems. Transformation requires both putting the new systems in place and doing so in ways that the systems work together and not at cross-purposes.

  1. Team Development

Recruit. Engage. Develop. Retain. Promote and/or expand. Transformation is only as strong as those who see the process through. Remember, living things reproduce, and I’m raising the call to establish leadership farm systems.

  1. Executive Coaching and Training

New systems require new skill sets. You and your executive leaders need personal assessment, coaching, training and support.

As technologists, we know more than anyone that business today requires fluidity, flexibility and freedom; everything that makes for a healthy organism. In seeking to provide those, we entrenched ourselves in the opposite: floating, fragmented and fixed, the characteristics of an unhealthy organization.

You just came out of “now is the time” for the business. Now is your time.

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