Become a Strategic Partner to Your CEO

CIOs must establish a strategic partnership with their CEO by linking conversations to business outcomes, metrics, benefits and real choices.

Picture the scene: The company’s strategic planning session for 2019 starts in 15 minutes, but Jay, the CIO, still hasn’t received a meeting invitation. Instead, 15 minutes later, he sees the chief financial officer, chief operating officer, chief security officer, chief marketing officer and chief human resources officer enter the meeting room and shut the door behind them. Does this situation feel familiar?

If it does, you may think that your role has been sidelined. However, a simpler explanation is often that many CIOs have a technology or engineering background, whereas CEOs generally come from a sales background. This means they often speak, in effect, different languages.

Whether the CEO views IT as service provider or strategic business partner often comes down to the CIO’s ability to engage the CEO 

Most CIOs seek approval, rather than inviting their CEOs to participate in the IT decision-making process. This can lead CEOs to view the IT department as a service provider, rather than as a strategic business partner. This, in turn, can lead to reduced IT budget and a lack of CIO involvement in the making of decisions that affect business outcomes.

“Whether the CEO views IT as service provider or strategic business partner often comes down to the CIO’s ability to engage the CEO in conversations that offer real choices and demonstrate understanding of the overall enterprise strategy,” says Leigh McMullen, Research Vice President at Gartner. “The conversation the CIO has with the CEO should therefore include how to improve profit margin and gain competitive advantage.”

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CIOs must reframe their role to become strategic partners to the CEO

Digitalization provides an opportunity for CIOs to change their role from approval seeker to a contributor with a seat at the strategy table. It has given them the impetus to become strategic partners to CEOs. Digital disruption has placed technology at the heart of most business discussions, and IT is now regarded by CEOs as an important strategic asset and a means by which they can innovate.

“This changed mindset offers the opportunity for the CIO to engage in challenging conversations with their CEO. For example, the CEO of a major global bank expressed concern that the bank was getting too big, and that it was losing the local market connections of the regional banks it was buying. While this isn’t a problem a CIO can do anything about directly, framing technology solutions in the context of a business problem will resonate strongly,” says McMullen.

Read more: How CIOs Can Get the Right Seat at the Table

Effective communication is essential for CIOs to build their credibility

Whether CIOs are trying to guide future investment choices, increase IT’s credibility and business value, or play a greater role in defining corporate strategy and business outcomes, the ability to have engaging conversations with their CEO is critical.

Start by identifying what’s important to your CEO. Then:

  • Strive to establish a strategic partnership with your CEO by linking your conversations to business outcomes, metrics, benefits and real choices.
  • Frame conversations with your CEO to match his or her decision-making style. Talk in the right context, at the right level.
  • Offer real choices and identify the implications of each. Don’t rationalize the past.
  • Focus on your CEO’s metrics and top concerns. Address the elements for which he or she is held accountable, and clearly communicate how your proposals support those elements.

Gartner clients can read more in the report “How to Have an Engaging Conversation With Your CEO” by Leigh McMullen et al. 

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