Leadership & People

Positive change starts from the top. Great leadership drives teams to succeed, defines a positive culture and inspires the leaders of tomorrow. 

Much is written about what makes a good leader, and no one recipe or formula exists. The challenges facing our current and upcoming leaders vary wildly.

How teams thrive while dealing with internal politics, external ideas and failure are complex challenges every leader must learn to manage. You don’t have to do it alone.

IBRS is comprised of many ex-CIOs with a wealth of knowledge that can provide mentoring and advice to current and aspiring leaders. Our career development, networking and thought leadership resources help leaders solve problems and create workplace cultures geared towards success and satisfaction.

Conclusion: The Australian Institute of Management recognises that leadership and management will need to continue to evolve to keep up with technological innovation and globalisation. Whilst organisations are usually aware of the need to keep up with technological changes, they often struggle with the practical implications for management and impact on organisational structure. On the one hand operational management can increasingly be automated, and on the other hand the ability to build and lead high performance teams is gaining in importance. Having appropriate people in executive team leadership positions is critical.

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Conclusion: The intense focus on social media and related technologies and how it will influence organisations has increased in the last year. Nor will it dim. The catalyst for the change has emanated from four companies and their products which have significantly altered behaviour and interaction with technology – in particular with devices.

Business and IT executives wishing to understand the forces of consumerisation and social media (Social IT) and its impact within organisations need to look at the compound effect brought about by network connections between those four companies and how people connect with them.

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Conclusion: Whether in the private or public sector, the fundamental objective of a board should be “building long-term sustainable growth in shareholder value”1. Usually the intention to do this is expressed in an organisation's strategic plan. Increasingly, IT plays a significant part in these plans, yet many Directors remain shy of anything other than superficial discussions on IT, potentially diminishing IT's contribution to the organisation. Through exertion of appropriate influence and by carefully selecting which channels to use to gain board attention, an effective CIO can take a number of steps to correct this situation.

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Conclusion: One of the initial soft targets of the Executive when costs have to be cut is the IT training budget. Whilst CIOs might put up counter arguments such as potential impact on IT productivity, project delays and reliance on lower skilled staff, the arguments usually fall on deaf ears as most executives regard training as a discretionary expense.

When the cut occurs CIOs have to be creative and find ways to enhance the skills and proficiency of IT professionals and managers, while staying within the amended IT expense budget.

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Conclusion: The challenge of servicing customers well through various channels and over many devices has added considerable complexity to operations. The blindness of monitoring how well the IT operation is working has been removed and now data flows in huge amounts. The principal goal is to provide high quality customer experience and not simply rely on dashboards to churn out machine data reports.

The skills of analysis and insight should be more keenly applied to the data in order to reveal and clarify the value of the data. How the reams of data can be used for an organisation to deliver a high customer experience remains the main task. Organisations that believe that solely monitoring data to support transactions will likely miss the significance of what the data can yield and strengthen their customer contacts.

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Conclusion: Bob Dylan’s enigmatic song ‘Changing of the Guards’ included these lyrics: “But Eden is burning, either brace yourself for elimination. Or else your hearts must have the courage for the changing of the guards.” This song could well refer to changes in IT that have been gathering force for over a decade. A new order is emerging: progressive CIOs are unseating their regressive counterparts bringing new meaning to IT enablement.

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Conclusion: In the current economic climate with potential scaling back of discretionary investment in IT, and data suggesting a decline in the number of IT skilled staff entering the workforce, CIOs have to weigh up many factors before deciding whether to hire permanent IT staff or engage contractors.

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Unbelievably, Steve Jobs' passing made front page news in virtually every nation on earth. This is probably unprecedented for an 'IT guy' let alone one who dropped out of college before going on to establish Apple with Steve Wozniak in 1976. As most know, after the Jonathan Sculley / Steve Jobs power struggle of late 1985 Steve Jobs resigned from Apple, founding NeXT Computer. Subsequently in 1996, Apple acquired NeXT as sales of the Mac languished, leading ultimately to Jobs assuming the CEO role at Apple after a successful boardroom coup. During Jobs’ sabbatical from Apple he was also the driving force behind Pixar. In August 2011 Apple’s market capitalisation briefly surpassed market leader Exxon Mobil, remaining comfortably ahead of IBM and Microsoft.

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As a consequence of the Internet, and with it, the development of several technologies, and e-commerce (and piracy, too) and now, all things ‘social’ there is an expectation that disruptive innovation is critical to success. More than that: disruptive is the key to success, and without it businesses will die. Survive or die; it’s either/or. The choice is clear.

In the US, as each new social media IPO is a success, the disruptive power of social is proven and now figuratively slapping the faces of tired old enterprise IT. Look at the P/E ratios of Cisco and Microsoft and Google – too low and unexciting because they are not disruptive. They are like remnants of the US steel industry, slowly rusting.

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Conclusion: There is a universality to many aspects of the roles performed by CIOs. Dictated by technology trends and strongly influenced by IT vendors, CIOs often find themselves following a pre-written script containing the initiatives they should pursue. Often they find themselves carrying out exactly the same types of projects as their colleagues in totally different business sectors. For some CIOs, this can be less than satisfying. Worse, despite their complicity (sometimes tacit) in IT initiatives, many senior executives are often underwhelmed by the value delivered by IT. CIOs can take a number of steps to overcome this impasse, achieving more job satisfaction whilst gaining higher profiles in their organisations.

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Conclusion: When it comes to craving what we desire, we’re often our own worst enemies. Sometimes the steps that are taken to achieve an outcome result in the antithesis of the desired effect. Many of the attempts CIOs make to gain CEO attention may be misread, causing the relationship to distance rather than strengthen. However, there are some steps all CIOs can take to properly position IT in the mind of the CEO, building strong CIO/CEO connections and heightening CIO job satisfaction.

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Conclusion: The CIO role is one of the most demanding jobs in an organisation as it involves driving the business to new highs based on an effective IT and business partnership arrangement, so IT can act as a services business. To succeed the CIO needs to articulate a vision that is acted on by business managers who assume the role of informed buyers of IT services

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Conclusion: More than almost any other factor in a CIO’s armoury, having good people within IT is a mainstay of continued success. Building good teams starts with staff selection. While some use search firms for senior roles, most CIOs use traditional recruitment methods: profile the role, advertise it, shortlist candidates, interview them, check references, then appoint. In difficult employment markets it is tempting to make staff selection compromises purely for the sake of filling a vacant role and relieving a stress-point.

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Conclusion: Between the initial enthusiasm of planning a new system, the focused effort of selecting a vendor and negotiating a contract, and the frenetic activity of implementation, nobody wants to think about how to deal with the possibility of a major project failure. While rare, organisations need to put in place contingency plans before they start, preferably during planning and negotiations.

Organisations should establish a framework for dealing with failing systems that gives them the necessary tools to quickly get it back on track or terminate it and seek reparation if appropriate. Without this, organisations risk a long and bitter struggle, which is both costly and embarrassing to themselves and the vendor.

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One of the most valuable IT professionals is the resilient project manager or program director. This is the person who can ‘jump tall buildings in one bound’, ‘walk over hot coals unaided’ and can deliver the solution or issue the tender while meeting OTUB (On Time Under Budget) requirements. (The role is gender neutral). Such is their value that astute CIOs ‘ring-fence’ these managers and stop them being seconded to projects outside their area.

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Conclusion: A new leadership team in a major IT provider such as IBM will mean the potential for change and disruption for customers, partners and staff of IBM. This change may vary from a potential for a shift in strategic direction to more incremental changes as new management seeks to place its stamp on company performance. Just as in your organisation, new leadership at IBM will mean new ideas and processes for both IBM and its clients.

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Conclusion: The generic term “the business” as used by IT people to refer to their stakeholders, is a gross and somewhat dangerous generalisation. Blithely referring to “the business” while making little effort to understand the real needs and priorities of system constituents can leave IT practitioners disconnected from the people they are trying to serve. Organisations have many different facets and characteristics that all seek different qualities from IT solutions. Understanding these differences is an essential requirement to delivering superior IT services and solutions.

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Conclusion: Knowing what it costs to provide IT services is fundamental for sound IT governance and external comparison. Whilst it might be tempting to quote the IT expense budget as the basis for comparison, doing so is naïve. This is because each organisation differs in the way it collects and allocates IT expenses. Without normalising the costs, comparisons could be way off the mark.

Once IT costs have been normalised and adjusted, as described and depicted in the diagram below, comparison is defensible with a) comparable organisations, b) what an external services provider might charge for the same services and c) the average costs for the industry sector as set out in IT industry survey spending reports.

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Conclusion: Many an incoming CIO stumbles between acceptance of an employment offer and the first few months in the job. Often for the CIO it seems that there is so much to do it’s difficult to know where to turn and what to focus on. Coupled with this, the incoming CIO usually has an overwhelming sense of desire to do a good job and achieve recognition.

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Have you ever been at a conference where everyone in the room is a stranger and you just wanted to leave? Have you ever tried to conduct an interview with an applicant who gives only ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ responses to questions and clearly does not want you to enter their world?

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Conclusion: It would be unusual to find a C-level executive who doesn’t have at least a glancing admiration for companies such as Apple, Google, Amazon and Intel1. All are highly successful and all are known for their innovative cultures.

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Conclusion: In the best-selling 1982 publication "In Search of Excellence"1Tom Peters introduced the concept of MBWA or Managing By Wandering Around. His hypothesis, which remains valid today, is that to gain perspective senior executives should periodically distance themselves from usual management activities to see their organisations differently.

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Conclusion: As a CIO enmeshed in day to day activities, it is easy to think myopically of a world bounded only by what is closest to hand: IT clients, staff and suppliers. But to do so can be delusional. Effective CIOs are first and foremost good strategic thinkers constantly focused on delivering better business outcomes. As such, they take the time to survey the world beyond their immediate boundaries, reflecting on and gaining inspiration from the manifold influences that can shape their future plans and indeed over which the CIO may exert affect. Such a world, quite distant from daily routine but subtly connected to it, may be thought of as the CIO’s role as seen from space.

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Conclusion:All contracts eventually terminate, however the reasons for the termination and the way the termination is handled can lead to different outcomes. To minimise the risks associated with contract termination it is essential that the buying organisation gives due consideration to this event while in the early stages of the procurement cycle. Unless the procurement contract is drafted to cover the issues that can arise as a result of termination, the buying organisation can be faced with significant business disruption, financial penalties and potentially even legal action.

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Conclusion: Many CIOs seek to be seen as visionaries in their organisations. Usually bestowed with higher than average intellect and with unique insight into the workings of their organisation and its role within its ecosystem and society, they are well-placed to make a significant contribution toward organisational growth and innovation. Yet curiously, this rarely happens.

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Conclusion: The GFC (Global Financial Crisis) has forced most organisations to reduce their operating costs to stay viable, and have given the task of achieving it, by challenging spending proposals and trimming budgets, to the CFO.

To ensure the right areas of expenditure are targeted CIOs must work with the CFO to not only assess impact of reduced spending but also develop a fallback plan in case IT spending is cut. CIOs who adopt an adversarial approach or are slow to co-operate with the CFO are putting their careers at risk.

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Conclusion: In Australasia in 2009, admittedly in the thrall of the GFC, an unprecedentedly high number of CIOs lost their jobs. A broad spectrum of CIOs were involved: some were high profile industry figures, a few had been promoted from within whilst others with seemingly well-credentialed backgrounds had been in their roles for a matter of months.

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At the conclusion of a course on ‘Selling Ideas’, in which I was an instructor, one of the participants was an Enterprise Architect in a large bank. He stated that he now planned to be a ‘political animal’. His management team when told, and unaware of his identity, were both alarmed and delighted. Alarmed, because he might ‘ruffle a few (of their) feathers’ and delighted, that by being politically active, he might fast track decisions needed to complete projects on time.

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The structure of the IT function will more often than not be influenced by the structure of the organisation it serves. There is no one right way to organise IT within an organisation. Rather there are a variety of models, each with their own benefits and disadvantages. Whatever model is implemented however, it is important to ensure that decisions on the optimum structure for IT are driven by business rather than political imperatives, and that the CIO has significant input.

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While it is commonly accepted that the success of an IT department is very much dependent upon its people, processes and the relationship between IT management, IT staff and their clients, an important relationship which is often overlooked is that between CIOs and the executives to whom they directly report. It is critical to the delivery of an efficient IT service within an organisation that a strong and mutually beneficial relationship is established between the CIO and their manager. CIOs must work continually towards maintaining this relationship.

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Conclusion:The participation rate of IT and Business Professionals in teleworking is growing and has the potential to reduce occupancy costs while increasing productivity. That is, using ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) to support work activities away from the employer's office. Growth in recent years has been triggered by the availability of robust IT infrastructure and an increasingly IT literate workforce.

Despite its upside, surveys1have shown that teleworking, if not effectively managed with boundaries put around its participation, may negatively impact business relationships and lead to work-private life conflicts.

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The tendency to promote highly skilled and successful technical people to managerial positions as a form of recognition and/or reward, if not thoroughly thought through, can have the effect of weakening both the managerial and technical streams of the IT department Before making such a promotion the ability of the technical people to make the transition successfully must be considered and the necessary skills and techniques to be successful managers imparted through training and education. Continuous mentoring through the provision of advice and support, particularly in the early days, is essential to a successful transition.

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Conclusion: Historically grown organisational structures and simplistic job descriptions sometimes stand in the way of creating a high-performance team. Taking personality attributes into account when assigning roles and responsibilities can have a measurable influence on overall costs, delivery time, functional fit of IT solutions, as well as on skill development in the team.

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Conclusion: IT departments that do not effectively engage with users, at all levels, within an organisation will fail to actively promote both their services and the value they can add and, as a result, will find themselves disadvantaged during times of cost cutting.

A lack of understanding by the user of the role, the position and the contribution of IT within an organisation can lead to significant issues between IT and users.

Open communication, and an understanding and respect for each other’s roles, vision, goals and objectives can go a long way to resolving these issues.

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ConclusionTurning expected outcomes identified in the business strategy into reality, is high on the agenda of most senior managers. What is not well understood though is the role sound planning has to play in ensuring the outcomes are realised while meeting the typical project performance criteria such as delivery on time, costs kept within budget and ability to meet agreed service levels.

Project planning skills are not acquired overnight. They are based on a sound understanding of the project life cycle, as depicted in the diagram below, the ability to unravel the business strategy and plan the IT-related activities (tasks) needed to facilitate workplace change.

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In the last year billions and trillions seemed to be the only numbers that counted for anything anymore. The Australian government is raising approximately $1.5 billion dollars per week on bond markets; the US public debt could reach up $20 trillion dollars in five years. According to the International Money Fund, public debt in the world’s top 10 economies could balloon by 36% to 114% of GDP, or US$50,000 per capita by 2014; and let’s not forget the $680 trillion dollar OTC derivatives market, which may produce some more heart racing, and wealth destroying, events in the future.

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Conclusion: During hard economic times it is not uncommon for IT to be instructed to consider a restructuring to better serve the organisation. However the temptation to reduce costs by relaxing governance, adjusting standards and reducing the service structure, even with the best of intentions, may result in inadequate service levels and where possible should be avoided.

Where business units within an organisation have enjoyed a fully collaborative and cooperative strategic planning and development relationship with IT it is important that Innovator CIOs continue to fulfil this role during the economic downturn. Reverting to a more defensive utility manager role will disadvantage IT when the turnaround comes and business and systems activity increases.

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Conclusion: Many technical, and systems related, documents are hard to read and authors run the risk only a fraction of their target audience read them. Those that do read them have difficulty reading them with understanding. The problems with hard to read technical documents are likely to exacerbate as an older age group remain in the workforce and they represent a challenge for workers whose primary language is not English.If we are to have an efficient and productive workforce, we must ensure that those who need to can both read our documentation and understand it.

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There are many theories being thrown around at present on the reasons for the global financial crisis. One that is getting traction is that there is a significant relationship between high levels of testosterone and preparedness by male traders to take extra risks to get a greater return.

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IT departments who start putting together their 2009-10 budgets early, plan carefully, fully engage with the user and understand, and show that they understand the implications of the economic downturn on the organisation will create better opportunities for the negotiation of a satisfactory outcome with their organisation’s senior management.

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