5 ways CIOs can deliver business-critical results during the pandemic and beyond
Wednesday, February 10, 2021
This article originally appeared on The Enterprisers Project.
CIOs and other C-suite leaders must rapidly adapt both strategy and execution to deliver the results necessary for survival in the next normal.
In January 2020, you were likely paddling through the rapids of “old normal” business-critical issues, including: Providing systems that help business leaders deliver outstanding results, creating competitive advantage by improving the customer journey and overall experience, and nimbly adapting to constantly changing technology.
Then, bam! COVID appeared around the next bend in the river and the world rapidly became far more difficult and treacherous. Instantaneously, you had to:
- Provide great customer experiences, but in ways that changed overnight;
- Shift much of your company to working remotely;
- Ensure everyone had the technology they needed and the ability to use it while maintaining security and information integrity;
- Potentially cope with radical changes to budgets while scraping and clawing your way to mere survival.
You’re now paddling in cataclysmic rapids amidst a world of perpetual whitewater. As CIO, to paddle your way to survival, or even to thrive, you will need to focus on these five key areas:
1. Adapt your strategy: Understand how you create value to enable the business to create value.
Your company’s strategy — how it creates competitive advantage and wins in the market — has likely changed, perhaps dramatically. You must change your information strategy to support that change. Consider how you will:
- Support a rapidly changing customer experience/journey;
- Create value as the fundamental processes by which the business creates value have changed almost overnight;
- Help accelerate execution of the business’s vision and strategy;
- Help align organizational energy towards the most critical business drivers;
- Decide what you stop or avoid doing — either because it no longer fits with the environment or it doesn’t optimize the value you provide.
2. Align the best talent: Master right-right-right.
It’s critical to get the right people in the right roles with the right capabilities to execute your strategy. The capability requirements for your team were probably already evolving at lightspeed. Adapting to the changes wrought by COVID threw a step function change on those capability requirements. Consider:
- How do you ensure your team is fully engaged and delivering their best, even as they navigate through uncertainty themselves?
- What capabilities do you need in your organization as work processes and technology evolve?
- How intentionally are you re-skilling the members of your team to be effective in this rapidly changing environment?
- How are you recruiting and selecting the talent you need for today’s and future needs?
3. Create a culture of communication.
Everyone in the organization is going through a significant amount of highly stressful change. They are trying to sort out issues at home — staying healthy, caring for family members, managing kids who may or may not be going to school — while they may also be fearful about their own futures. You must ensure everyone is well informed about the challenges facing the organization and confident in your organization’s direction and response. Effective communication is always important; now, it’s paramount to survival.
Show you care: People need to know you care. To forge that connection, you must hear and understand their issues while being empathetic to their feelings and concerns.
Communicate, communicate, communicate: Once is not enough. People don’t always get what you share with them the first time. If they don’t have information, they default to MSU: “making stuff up.” What they make up is rarely accurate or good! You have to communicate clearly, consistently, frequently and through multiple channels to ensure you’re connecting effectively and minimizing the level of individual and organizational anxiety.
You also need to be open and transparent about both what you do and don’t know. With conditions changing nearly every day, it’s impossible to know everything. Being clear about that is critical to building and maintaining trust.
Practice 2-Up/2-Down: In this highly adaptive change, no one has the answers to how to navigate the next normal. Rapid learning is critical. Make a point to always communicate two levels up and two levels down. That ensures your messages are getting through and you’re learning about the questions, challenges and ideas from everyone in the organization.
4. Create organizational gravity: Align your “organizational architecture.”
Architecture includes the systems, structure, processes and culture that shape how work gets done. When well aligned to your strategy, they create gravity which pulls your organization in the direction you want to go. When misaligned, it feels like you’re swimming in mud.
As we paddle through the waves of COVID, the next normal of work will evolve. It’s impossible to predict exactly what that will look like although it will likely look different for every organization.
To ensure your organizational architecture enables whatever evolves, think about:
- How do your information systems need to change to support your organization’s next way of delivering value for your customers?
- How quickly can you adapt your systems, structures, processes and culture to provide the necessary flexibility to respond to rapidly changing circumstances?
- How can you adopt the right technology faster to enable your organization’s success?
5. Maintain focus and alignment on critical priorities while you lead through the turbulence.
Executing your strategy requires that the efforts of everyone on your team are aligned to the strategy. To create focus and alignment, you’ll need to:
- Redefine your team’s goals on the new results you must achieve;
- Realign your scorecards to reflect progress toward your new goals;
- Identify new performance drivers (critical tasks, behaviors and actions) necessary to delivering outstanding results;
- Rethink your follow-up/follow-through process and rhythm. Crisp, consistent follow-up/follow-through is critical to generating the learning necessary as you discover what truly works and doesn’t work in this new environment.
The next normal for your organization looks significantly different than the last normal of a few months ago. It will be extremely uncomfortable to adapt to this new state, but it’s also a great opportunity to rethink and redefine the information strategy and refocus on how you execute to create more value than ever.
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