How CIOs Can Best Influence Stakeholders

To be successful, CIOs must continuously pitch, persuade and prompt decisions on the part of business stakeholders over whom they have no authority

Julie Ouska, CIO & VP, Information Technologies, Colorado Community College System

Find the root of the problem

I spend a lot of time listening to people, trying to triangulate from many stakeholders what really is the problem that I'm supposed to be solving. Most people in the CIO role are pretty intuitive, good analysts and problem solvers, and usually we're right on the money with our instincts. But the higher we go, the more we can sometimes get ahead of ourselves with solutions that we think are right, but may not be best for the business. We need to take that step back and look for what others see as the root cause of the problem--the real issue we're trying to solve.

I will speak with stakeholders one-on-one, get details from each of them, use that information when talking with others and start forming a proposal or solution. You have to approach stakeholders on their playing field. They do want to trust that you know what you're doing, but they really want to know that you understand their particular issue from a business perspective.

Sam McMakin, CIO, American Chemistry Council

Relationships don't maintain themselves

You're only as good as your last meeting. Even though you've gained an alliance with a stakeholder, it continually needs to be nurtured because people don't just shut off their information intake. The stakeholder may understand your position and justifications, but once you walk out of their office, someone else could walk in with another idea. If you're going to work to nurture a relationship, it can't be done haphazardly.

For me, it's like making rounds. I set myself regularly scheduled time to follow up on what we talked about the last time, and I try to keep everything very informal--just stopping by or seeing if they have time to chat because that stops it from becoming just another required meeting.

I have my directors manage relationships this way as well, independent of those I maintain but also in support of IT better enabling the business. All of us working together with stakeholders gives those business leaders the knowledge and context they need to address the concerns of others.

Athelene Gieseman, CIO, Stinson Morrison Hecker

Ask for input; don't dictate

Whether working with people who are below you or working with peers, if you ask for someone's help, they are more likely to respond well than if you tell them what you want done. Asking doesn't mean that you're weak or that you're not in charge. By putting a question mark at the end of the sentence, what you're really saying is, "I respect your judgment and expect you to give me feedback that will help get this done."

In fact, I encourage people to play devil's advocate with me, because I don't know the best answer all the time. I've made it clear that listening does not guarantee agreement--it is the leader who must make the decision and bear the responsibility of that call. But getting input from others on how to go about something lets me consider other perspectives and usually results in a better solution for everyone.

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