How CIOs Can Get the Right Seat at the Table

Getting a seat at the table is a great CIO ambition. Getting the right seat at the right tables is a better goal.

As a CIO, you’ve probably thought: “I need to get a seat at the table. How do I make it happen?” It’s a question Gartner hears from CIOs in every industry and geography, in for-  and non-profit organizations of every size.

What does “having a seat” even mean

“Getting a seat at the table is a great ambition,” says Irving Tyler, research vice president at Gartner. “But many CIOs don’t understand what it really means. What table are we talking about? What does “having a seat” even mean? Why should IT sit at the table?”

Which tables and when

There are many “tables” where you should be sitting. Goals, strategies and initiatives are established by the senior executive team, business unit leaders and executives in functional areas. The first step is to locate all of the important teams, committees and boards to ensure IT is contributing where it’s needed.

If you want a seat at the table, you need a plan to make it happen

Then determine what it means to “sit at the table”? Should you be an official member of a given leadership team, involved with all management aspects of that function? Or should you just sit in when executives need information or guidance because information and technology are critical to a given situation, decision or plan?

“Be aware that these positions take a lot of time and energy,” Tyler says. “To sit at the more demanding tables, you’ll have to do less in some areas.”

What will your position be?

Gartner has identified four positions IT can establish with the leadership of any business unit or team.

  1. Contributor. Respond to functional area requests for IT capabilities and support.
  2. Consultant. Provide on-demand input to support functional challenges, providing expertise and options.
  3. Teammate. Participate in defined executive activities, ensuring a technology perspective is applied to goal setting, business strategy and major execution challenges.
  4. Team member. Serve as a member of the executive team supporting all major management processes.

Gartner recommends CIOs go after active positions such as teammate or team member where strategies require major capability changes (digital optimization) or new business designs (digital transformation), where CIO leadership is critical. If the enterprise’s digital ambitions are just getting started, you have a great opportunity to contribute expertise and insight, and even guide the development of new business options.

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Perform as a business executive

Success requires more than just sitting at the table. You must know what you need to contribute, what “language” is spoken, what the cadence and responsibility of the team are. You must be prepared to deliver the requirements needed to succeed.

“The most important aspect is to perform as a business executive,” says Tyler. Every enterprise functional area or capability needs information and technology to perform its mission. The leaders of these organizations need IT intelligence, input, advice and guidance from you to support their planning and management processes.

Expect hurdles

A major barrier to establishing the right position may be the existing relationship between business and IT. Business leaders’ view of the role IT plays in the success of their domain is often based on historical relationships and past performance. IT is often relegated to a relationship of: “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Read more: How CIOs Can Ensure a Seat at the Strategy Table

These situations often occur because the CIO and IT leaders have accepted a tactical relationship. They haven’t done the preparation work needed to be welcomed or successful when they are asked to join.

“If you want a seat at the table, you need a plan to make it happen,” explains Tyler. “It’s a prioritization effort — invest time and energy where there is greatest need. Don’t be as active on teams where the impact potential and legitimate need for IT is less.”

Gartner clients can read more in Get the Right Seat at the Table by Irving Tyler.

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