Quality IT Communication with Stakeholders is Key to Success
It is essential for all CIOs to maintain quality communication with core business stakeholders in order to build strong relationships and establish trust. Consistent discussions with the senior business leaders and executive decision makers help to pave the way to gaining approval for IT initiatives.
Info-Tech research identified that CIOs are failing at key success metrics because they are not:
- Explaining IT initiatives without technical jargon.
- Mapping IT goals and activities to corporate planning.
- Matching the sophistication of technology to both IT and business skills and needs.
- Providing detailed cost projections based on real numbers and understandable metrics.
As a result of these failings, CIOs are having difficulty gaining approval and are developing a poor reputation with senior business leaders. This is causing:
- Regular challenges by senior management to the proposed benefits and feasibility of IT proposals.
- IT to rarely receive the full funding amount requested for IT initiatives.
- IT requests to be rarely approved by the business.
- IT to be viewed unfavorably by the organization.
- End users to be dissatisfied with IT.
- It to be impossible for the business to predict when IT initiatives will be completed.
The factors that contribute to this situation vary from organization to organization. However, poor communication tactics are an underlying theme in many of them. The blame should not be focused on CIOs, however, the burden to improve communication lies with them.
Successful CIOs regularly perform three core communication tasks:
- Facilitate ongoing two-way communication to improve understanding. The road has to go both ways; if the CIO doesn’t facilitate open communication, the relationship will not develop effectively and benefits will not be realized.
- Provide stakeholders with the opportunity to raise concerns and ask questions before it’s too late. If stakeholders are unaware of IT initiatives with potential to impact their department, they will not be able to contribute to the ideas or to express their trepidations. CIOs should not avoid hearing them out early; leaving stakeholders out of the loop will only lead to conflict down the road. Plus, including stakeholders early will allow them to provide their insight and improve the quality of the initiative.
- Ensure that any delays or potential roadblocks are communicated early. Hiding behind the curtain will destroy CIO credibility. (For more insight into successful CIO communication with business stakeholders, see Info-Tech's Best Practice Case Study on non-profit agency IndependenceFirst.)
“About five years ago, we had little communication with the department heads. The technical stuff was being done without regard to what the business process needs were, so there were big mistakes being made all over the place.”
– IT Leader, Public Sector
Info-Tech’s four-step process to improving communication and proposal approval rates can be applied across a wide variety of organizations. These are fundamental elements that all CIOs, regardless of industry or size, should employ. The result of using this process when bringing a proposal in front of decision makers is a better chance of gaining approval for the initiative.
Understand the Four Steps to Gaining Approval for IT Initiatives
Step 1: Discuss the initiative.
Who’s involved: The CIO, senior business leaders sponsoring the initiative.
Business leaders in the organization rely on the expertise and support of the CIO to arrive at the best solution to their business problem, and when crafting the business case for it. The relationship between a business leader acting as a sponsor for an IT initiative and the CIO can be tension-filled and difficult to navigate. The best way to prevent problems before they start is to keep the business sponsors informed about IT initiatives long before they hit the boardroom table. This way concerns can be raised and dealt with early.
Step 2: Present the proposal.
Who’s involved: The CIO (supporting the business sponsor), senior business leaders sponsoring the initiative, decision makers receiving the presentation.
There is potential for a valid and necessary initiative to be rejected because the presentation does not communicate the right messages. It’s up to the CIO to make sure that the key IT details are coming across clearly and accurately. It’s up to the senior business leaders to communicate business value and expected costs and benefits.
“IT needs to know what the business is talking about, and make sure to have all business experts participate to answer questions. A state-of-the-art business case is a must. All benefits must be focused on the potential value that can be brought to the organization and the proposal must be just about that, using a language everyone can understand.”
– Hector Cueva-Rosas, IT Corporate Manager for Latin-America
Step 3: Deal with objections.
Who’s involved: The CIO (to handle objections to IT details), senior business leaders sponsoring the initiative (to handle objections to business details), decision makers challenging the proposal.
No matter how well the initiative has been presented, decision makers will have questions; it’s their responsibility to ask. The best way to handle concerns is to anticipate and prepare for potential questions before presenting the proposal. Common concerns include:
- “You haven’t convinced me we should do this.”
- “I don’t understand what the benefits will help us achieve.”
- “I’m worried this will cost more than you say it will.”
- “We can only buy this if we can get it cheaper.”
- “Your plan isn’t going to get us to the end of the job fast enough.”
- “I’m not confident you can pull this off.”
The best way to resolve these concerns is to build a solid track record of IT consistency. However, if you haven’t done that, start by setting measurable targets and actually tracking them, presenting realistic cost estimates, building sponsor accountability with the projects they are supporting, and outlining potential roadblocks up front. While optimism is often a good thing, it is always best to err on the side of caution and to provide as much information as you can, even if it means explaining setbacks.
Step 4: Build and maintain credibility.
Who’s involved: The CIO
When it comes to stakeholder relationships, credibility is king. CIOs with credibility must constantly work to maintain it and CIOs without credibility must work to build it. CIOs without credibility are often new to the organization, or have a track record of being over-time and over-budget on projects they are responsible for. In order to build credibility with decision makers, these CIOs can work on:
- Being firm and consistent about opinions
- Under-promising to allow for over-delivery
- Portraying a realistic view of the organization’s position in the market, environment, and fiscal cycle
- Providing accurate and supported financial analyses
- Demonstrating that thought and consideration has been put into answers to decision-maker questions
- Being consistent across all statements and situations
CIOs with less than stellar approval rates have an opportunity to improve by clearly defining their role in the approval process, adhering to that role and following a structured process for gaining approval of IT initiatives.
View how one CIO used quality communication with business stakeholders to build strong relationships, establish trust, and gain approval for IT initiatives.