CIO’s – If you can improve one trait in 2010, let it be this one

I’ve been sitting here thinking. Gene De Libero say’s I’m always thinking…not sure if that’s good or bad! :)

What have I been thinking about?  Lots of things…but as it relates to this post, I’ve been thinking about the one trait that CIO’s can improve upon for 2010. By improving this one simple trait, I believe the ability of the IT group to deliver real value to the organization will increase exponentially.

What’ trait am I talking about?  Listening

In the world of IT, we do a lot of talking.  We talk. And talk. And talk.

We do listen some.  We send business analysts and project managers out to talk to customers.  Did you catch that?  We send people to ‘talk’ to customers.  We don’t send people  to “listen” to customers.

The blame for this lies squarely on the shoulders of the CIO and the IT group as a whole. We’ve built our processes and our procedures to be focused on IT issues, not user issues.  We’ve built our requirements gathering methods around what customer’s want and need and then we mediate those wants/needs to ensure that they don’t break any of our guidelines/processes. We’ve built our IT organizations to tell the rest of the company how things will be done.  While focused on talking, we’ve failed to listen.

In many organizations, users are going around IT to get things done.  In many cases (at least in my experience), this is because IT doesn’t hear the real needs of the business users.

I’ve got an example from a previous consulting gig that I’d like to share…I hope it drives the point home:

The IT group heard that the Marketing team needed a Content Management System so a project was started to buy and implement one.  But did we really listen to the need of the marketing team? Did we hear that they want and need to be able to make content changes on a whim?  Did we hear that they need to be able to do A/B testing (or some other testing/optimization techniques) on a regular basis?

I can tell you that the IT group didn’t those things.  All we heard was Content Management System.  We were the System experts right? So…we bought a CMS, implemented it and allowed the Marketing group to have access to it.  And…doing what IT does best, we put a convoluted change process around the CMS.  Lo and behold, within 6 months the team that asked for the CMS stopped using it because they couldn’t do what they needed to do with it.

And we wondered what was wrong with those ‘marketing people’.

Nothing was wrong with them.  It was us! We didn’t listen.  We heard ‘content management system’ and ran out and implemented one. We “knew” what they needed.

BTW – that marketing team got so fed up with us that they went around the IT team. They found a hosted platform that would allow them to do everything they needed.  Now, that organization’s IT team has been changed for the worse…they went from a team of 20 to a team of 5. They do nothing but keep the lights on now because they weren’t able to provide real value to the organization,  and have become irrelevant to that company. The IT team failed to listen and it cost them dearly.

So…do you see why I think ‘listening’ is the one trait CIO’s should focus on in 2010?    The world of IT is changing dramatically. I don’t believe the IT group has the ability to ‘tell’ the organization how things will be done any longer.  Unless you listen to the real business needs, the IT group and CIO might just become irrelevant in the future.

Here’s my plea to all CIO’s and IT managers:

If you only improve one trait in 2010, let it be this one. Listen well. Fail to listen to your organization’s real needs and you might find you’ve become irrelevant and unnecessary.

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Comments

  1. Timely post. I agree that IT needs to listen more. I still cannot figure out why that is such a problem in many organizations. Is it that hard to stop talking for a moment and listen to the needs of the business? Let's see if things improve in 2010…

  2. Thanks for stopping by. Listening is a skill that some in IT do well (Business Analysts for example) but it hasn't permeated throughout the IT culture yet.

    Looking forward to a better 2010.

  3. Kevin Merritt says:

    Totally agree. Unfortunately, this is not a new problem. Too often the technical team starts working on the solution before really understanding the problem and the business team is not clear on what they really need. Business Analysts who understand requirements develop process can help both sides to achieve success, but often they are not given the time to complete the full assessment. Too often, IT believes this is solved through use of a methodology – but this problem is further upstream. I am always reminded of Covey's 5th Habit…seek first to understand then to be understood. If we all really practiced this principle, we would solve the problem…easier to say then do!

    Thanks for all your great posts, especially Sunday Links, in 2009. Keep up the great work!

  4. Hi Kevin – so true.

    methodologies are necessary, but not the solution.

    Thanks for the kind words…you can bet I'll be doing more in 2010.

  5. Talk is cheap. As a CIO and business exec for many years, I learned one thing early – you can't listen with your mouth. Great post. Thanks Eric.

  6. Nice article. Bring to the attention very basic skill which we often neglect i.e. Listen All.

  7. Eric, great case study of the real-world practical implications of simple, plain old listening. If I may add one small bit, I find that many organizations hear “listening” and think that it means “listening for.” What they end up doing, of course, is “listening for” a CMS. Or whatever else happens along. As your example points out, there's always a CMS, or something else, that will come along and be the next shiny object. Listening pure and simple–listening so that the other person can be heard–is the point. Not listening as brain-suck to find the answer, but listening as in interaction.
    Thanks for a fine year-starting post.

  8. True Gene. So many times I see people talking when they should be listening.

  9. Hi Habeeb – Thanks. Good to hear from you…thanks for stopping by!

  10. Mary Ferguson says:

    This sounds waaay to familiar.

  11. That's because it happens every day in just about every organization :)

  12. Hi Charles – thanks for stopping by.

    There will always be the 'next CMS' but the job of every person within an organization is to understand what is truly necessary to be successful. By asking that question (what do we need to do our job) and answering the question fully (by interacting and truly listening), organizations will be better able to serve the needs of the employees and customers.

  13. “You have two ears and one mouth, and you should use them in that proportion.”
    - Unknown

  14. best quote ever Joe! :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Eric D. Brown, CompTIA. CompTIA said: RT @ericdbrown What is the one trait for CIO's and IT groups to improve in 2010? http://bit.ly/6wm5dk [...]

  2. [...] is the original post:  Listening – a trait that CIO's & IT Groups need to improve upon in … By admin | category: cio | tags: article, cio, focus-on-listening, groups-fail, [...]

  3. [...] Listening – a trait that CIO's & IT Groups need to improve upon in … [...]

  4. [...] Listening – a trait that CIO's & IT Groups need to improve upon in … [...]

  5. RT @ericdbrown Listening – a trait that CIO's & IT Groups need to improve upon in 2010 http://bit.ly/6iZZhM

  6. CIO’s – If you can improve one trait in 2010, let it be this one: BE A BETTER LISTENER. (@ericdbrown) http://bit.ly/8fgD2j

  7. Shared… If you can improve one trait in 2010, let it be this one (by @ericdbrown) http://ping.fm/jrqec

  8. RT @jurgenappelo: Shared… If you can improve one trait in 2010, let it be this one (by @ericdbrown) http://ping.fm/jrqec

  9. AgileArtem says:

    Interesting CIO’s – If you can improve one trait in 2010, let it be this one: I’ve been sitting here.. http://bit.ly/61ucJm

  10. RT @AgileArtem: Interesting CIO’s – If you can improve one trait in 2010, let it be this one: I’ve been sitting here.. http://bit.ly/61ucJm

  11. RT @AgileArtem: Interesting CIO’s – If you can improve one trait in 2010, let it be this one: I’ve been sitting here.. http://bit.ly/61ucJm

  12. thanks to @jurgenappelo @pawelbrodzinski for sharing If you can improve one trait in 2010, let it be this one http://ping.fm/jrqec

  13. Mark Gibaud says:

    Shared… If you can improve one trait in 2010, let it be this one (by @ericdbrown) http://ping.fm/jrqec (via @jurgenappelo)

  14. Vin says:

    Great advice – 'listen' to your customer, not 'talk' to your customers – http://bit.ly/7yPYfM)

  15. [...] me, “You can’t listen with your mouth”. My buddy Eric Brown (@ericdbrown) wrote a great blog post targeted to CIOs and says if there’s a trait you can improve in 2010, it should be to listen [...]

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