CIOs say personal disruption comes before digital disruption

Why CIOs and their teams need to change themselves first, before digital disruption can work for the entire organization.

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Several years ago, Whitney Johnson suggested that the disruptions and changes that matter start with personal disruptions and change. Given that we have entered into a new decade, it made sense to consider the changes that CIOs and their teams should consider over the next year and possibly the next several years. This is the topic that I posed to the #CIOChat.

What are the most important personal disruptions CIOs should make in 2020?

CIOs suggest personal disruption should be part and parcel to the overall disruptions that their organizations are making. At the same time, they say transformation needs to happen at many levels these days including the personal level. With this said, if an organization has been comfortable with the status quo for too time, CIOs say they need to start by driving the organizational change needed to be receptive to change and to perceive changes the organization needs.

A key part of this, CIOs say is that IT leaders should resolve to be open to new ideas and ways of thinking this year and in the coming decade. Part of this involves getting out of the natural comfort zone and being open to thinking differently about how to impact the organization. CIOs suggest in 2020 IT leaders need to have increased awareness of the social and cultural impacts occurring from technology.

CIOs say, for this reason, it makes sense to encourage the entire team to self-disrupt itself. To fix businesses, CIOs should get the business out of its comfort zone too. This is especially the case when everything is seemingly running smoothly. Ian Mitroff once said that “the seeds of failure are born in every success.” So, CIOs need to have an increasing sense of urgency where there is complacency.

What personal disruptions should CIOs be encouraging in 202?

CIOs say this is the year to stop thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion as something another office does to IT. They need to make it an internal mindset that will result in better teams. At the same time, CIOs need to encourage technical team members to interact with and learn more about the business. In many organizations, the CIO is technical business leader, but that knowledge and interaction doesn’t move far enough down the ladder. CIOs should aim to build an entire team of technical business leaders.

[ Related: What is a chief automation officer? And do you need one? ] 

Good CIO staff disruptions for 2020 were seen as including the following:

  • Spend a stint in a key part of the business.
  • Learn a new programming language.
  • Have them rethink their job in terms of art-of-the-possible.
  • Let them do your job for a day (especially meetings).
  • Elicit their biggest job issue.

With this said, there should be an adoption of the agile manifesto. IT leaders should be simplifying and maximizing the amount of work not done this way. Here, CIOs should determine what's the one thing they can have the team can stop doing with minimum impact. This creates the capacity to be dedicated to things with greater impact. The question to ask is how many of the team members can make this transition successfully.

[ Related: 2020 State of the CIO: IT leaders mean business ]

Everyone going forward needs to understand the business side of things. It cannot be just the CIO. With this, the focus needs to move onto value, innovation, collaboration, and efficiencies. And this includes not being comfortable with doing it how it has always been. At the same time, there needs to be a realization that each organization within the business can have its own distinctive culture.

What about business leaders’ personal disruptions?

To effectively execute at this, CIO need to work on the intangibles. This includes EQ, relationship management, influencing peers, and staff alike. All of these should engender broad buy-in. CIOs must find a way to tweak their C-Suite's curiosity. They need to eliminate suspicion that there isn’t a better way to do things. CIOs need to model the behavior they want to see.

At the same time, CIOs should enable the digital growth of other business leaders. This starts by having an openness to considering new ideas. When outside ideas lead to departmental or business improvement, CIOs should these celebrates these wins. CIOs, as well, need to sponsor and deliver with broad inclusion a rich digital literacy and leadership program.

Anyone with interest should be able to participate. This program should be updated regularly and reflect current digital strategy of the organization. In 2020, CIOs need to lead a conversation that identifies how and where technology fits into the business objectives. This requires moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to digital. CIOs need to derive digital options that make business sense, are thought through, add and are supportable.

How can CIOs enable a culture of personal disruption?

CIOs say that IT leaders need to be good storytellers and to active rewarders of behaviors that lead to personal disruption and change. CIOs stress the importance of creating incentives. At the same time, IT organizations will follow CIOs that lead the way. How then can a CIO enable a culture of personal disruption:

  • Lead by example
  • Provide time, resources, and encouragement for it
  • Reward the right behavior
  • Storytelling successes + lessons learned
  • Walk the talk with C-Suite leadership

That said, disruption for disruption sake is dangerous. It is essential that CIOs and their teams understand what they are disrupting and why. CIOs need partners and allying strategies where they are leading by example and are looking for ways to modify behaviors in smaller teams. They need to model it and know what they are doing.

Finally, CIOs need to celebrate failure. Disruption fails more often than most want to discuss or admit it. When experimentation fails, celebrate the effort and allow teams to learn from the failure. It is important to determine what worked, what didn’t work, and what did we learn from the failure? With this, a business can keep innovating and eliminate the fear of failure.

Parting thoughts on personal and digital disruption

Today’s CIOs need to move from being trusted operator to what Deloitte calls a business co-creators or change instigators. For this reason, it is time for CIOs to build a team that practices personal disruption. With this change, real digital disruption is possible. The wider organization is depending on IT teams to make this change. So, get ready to change.