Digital - And Cultural - Transformation: The Keys to CIO Success
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Digital - And Cultural - Transformation: The Keys to CIO Success

Ryan Cote, CIO, U.S. Department of Transportation

Digital transformation initiatives are propelling change inside businesses at extraordinary rates. Companies are implementing new technologies and digitizing their organizations at record speeds. The increasing importance of these digital transformation efforts to the success of businesses around the world requires that CIOs play a crucial role in organizational – and cultural – change. As CIOs throughout organizations worldwide continue to champion digital transformation efforts, a key factor to success will be ensuring CIOs are cultural leaders and agents for change.

CIOs are accustomed to leading and managing big IT projects and initiatives, but the need to be a positive force for cultural change is new to many CIOs. The most successful CIOs will be those who build and guide elite teams that achieve superior results. Exceptional leadership, combined with forming and guiding an excellent team culture, will be at the heart of CIO success.

According to Tim Kight, Founder & CEO of Executive Coaching Firm Focus 3, the highest-achieving organizations are those that master the three factors of the “performance pathway” - leaders, culture, and behavior. Leaders drive culture. Culture influences behavior. Behavior produces results. Exceptional results begin with exceptional leadership.

To be successful in driving cultural change, CIOs should strive to lead in five key areas:

Vision and Strategy Creation - People are naturally resistant to change and digital transformation efforts can lead to nervous uncertainty inside an organization. The entire C-Suite should craft and communicate a clear strategy and plan for moving the business forward. The CIO is responsible for ensuring the organization’s digital investments and tech stack advance those business goals.

Talent Acquisition Excellence - Companies need to master talent acquisition to gain a competitive advantage and outperform other organizations. Highly talented employees are attracted to businesses that push the envelope. The CIO must work closely with the business to attract top talent through digital transformation projects.

Leadership Alignment - The importance of management team alignment around strategic business goals cannot be overstated. Without alignment, achieving buy-in throughout the organization will be difficult, lead to internal confusion, and foster miscommunication and misaligned priorities. With alignment, the CIO will further the technical implementation of the common vision and drive – and sustain – change at an accelerated pace.

Team Building - CIOs are instrumental in leading teams through formal team building initiatives to understand each other better and foster cultural transformation. After completing team building activities together, employees better understand each other's strengths, weaknesses, interests, and motivations. Regular team building efforts that engage employees with company goals, values, and standards of performance establish and maintain a wholesome culture.

Diversity Advocacy – Clearly, true diversity encompasses more than gender, age, race, sexual orientation, etc. To maximize success, CIOs need to attract and retain broadly diverse teams of technically-exceptional employees that value real diversity. Tech leaders should hire and build teams primarily based on cultural, cognitive, experience, skill, and project diversity. CIOs must avoid ‘quota’ targets and hire based on talent, passion, energy, and the ability for people from diverse backgrounds to come together and deliver successful projects on time and on budget.

Culture can be an accelerator of digital transformation. CIOs will need to craft a compelling vision that excites people about the future and develop a sound strategy for a company to rally behind. A concise vision and strategy that clearly communicate how digital transformation will improve their experience and drive bottom line value will be crucial to CIO success.



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