Why CIOs Must Flip Three Leadership Behaviors

February 18, 2015

Contributor: Andrew Spender

For todays CIOs, digitalization has moved to center stage in their businesses. How do they lead differently to manage the opportunity and risks that come with digital business?

According to the 2,800 CIOs surveyed in the Gartner 2015 CIO Agenda, the overwhelming majority of this year’s CIO respondents (89 percent) agree that the digital world engenders new, vastly different and higher levels of risk, and 69 percent acknowledge that agility is increasingly important relative to risk management.

To guide CIOs in this third-era of “digital now, digital first” reality, Dave Aron and Graham Waller, authors of the Gartner CIO Agenda survey report, highlight three striking imperatives for CIOs to “flip” their digital leadership behaviors.

Dave Aron and Graham Waller present 1. Flip from Legacy First to Digital First

To succeed in a digital world, enterprises must escape the inertia and “bad complexity” of a structured, legacy perspective, and focus on the future by starting from a digital perspective and working backward. This includes moving from backward reporting to forward-looking predictive analytics combined with data-led experimentation. Digital business success requires starting with a digital information and technology mindset, and working backward.

For example, Volvo Cars’ cross-functional innovation board brainstorms how digital can solve everyday problems with connected cars. Klas Bendrik, vice president and group CIO at Volvo, highlights the great failure rate of online delivery companies. Volvo’s solution? To create a temporary digital key for retail deliverers to place a customer’s order directly into the trunk of his Volvo car. The pilot for Roam Delivery uses digital to solve the customer’s inconvenience of how and where to receive everyday online deliveries.

2. Flip Measurements from Visible to Valuable

Digital business success requires building platforms that may not immediately generate ROI but can deal with rapid change and uncertainty, and manage value dynamically. Additionally, CIOs should categorize investments as fearful, to keep the business running; fact based, to extend within the organization’s business model; and faith-based with management capable of dealing with them. Value is not created by reducing the cost of IT per dollar of revenue, but by increasing revenue per dollar of IT cost, which equals IT productivity.

Volvo’s Bendrik understands the long-term digital value opportunities. He has formed an innovation team to “drive IT in Volvo cars” and inspires his team. “Up until a few years ago,” he said, “the attitude was, ‘if you don’t do anything, you can’t do anything wrong.’ Now, he encourages the entire IT team to step up and contribute to innovation.

3. Flip from Control to Visionary Leadership

Command-and-control leadership does not suit the digital world. Digital leadership is almost always about vision and inspiration. Education and inspiration are central tasks for CIOs determined to be digital leaders. CIOs recognize this: 75 percent plan to change their leadership style over the next three years, most commonly by amplifying their vision (47 percent) while reducing their command and control (65 percent). At Volvo, CIO Bendrik tries to model customer-centric behavior and reserves time in management meetings to discuss broader megatrends.

In addition to partnering with the most important business stakeholders, and developing a shared understanding of digitalization and what it means to the business, CIOs need to increase the digital savvy of their enterprises. In essence, CIOs and other leaders need to lead a digital cultural revolution across their businesses, possibly their ecosystems.

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