Ensuring executive alignment in an age of growth and change

For chief information officers, their title belies their role. Specifically, CIOs are charged with managing their companies’ information technology and the related infrastructure – but, increasingly, chief financial officers (CFOs) are becoming part of the picture, which has the potential to cause strained relations down the road, according to a recent article by ZDNet contributor Tim Lohman.

Lohman cited the example of Jey Jeyakumar of logistics firm Toll Global Express and predicted that the CFO will have an increased level of involvement when it comes to the decision-making process related to the procurement of cloud software and other Software-as-a-Service solutions. The CIO, said Jeyakumar, will weigh in after to determine whether the CFO-selected options are actually feasible.

“I would say that there is a tension there regarding the decision you are trying to make,” said Jeyakumar, as quoted by the news source. “As a CFO, you want the best value for money, while the CIO wants the least risk and greatest rewards and gets much more technical about it.”

With these kinds of leadership role shifts, it’s easy for the normal growing pains to include animosity between executives and departments. Often, this state of affairs is exacerbated by lack of alignment – at least according to Michael S. Kenny, managing partner of Kenny & Co., and Steve Blunt, whose extensive executive history includes positions at IBM and Cisco, writing for Baseline Magazine.

“As organizations undertake large transformational programs, there is a critical need to ensure that executives are aligned to the vision, purpose and goals of the proposed change,” Kenny and Blunt opined.

The integration of the cloud and various other SaaS solutions definitely qualifies as large and transformational, and companies that approach this task lacking executive alignment may fall victim to subpar project management, confused or conflicting ideas about goals, insufficient or badly defined program governance, a dearth of communication and more.

Firms eager to avoid such pitfalls should take several factors into account, according to the co-authors:

  • Vision: All executives should share a common vision and believe it to be achievable. Misalignment at this stage of the game will pave the way for further discord down the road.
  • Strategy: Once the vision has been agreed upon, the next step of the process is determining how to get there. Kenny and Blunt recommended that all key players “clearly define the strategic options and resulting implications of the shared vision; prioritize being effective over being right; and gain agreement on the optimal strategy to achieve the shared vision.”
  • Objectives: When setting objectives, Kenny and Blunt advocated for the SMARTER approach (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely, effective and results-oriented).
  • Leader/follower dynamic: Executives who are used to leading may be reluctant to “follow” the project leader, so leadership roles and expectations should be clearly delineated from the get-go.
  • Accountability: Often, group projects become catch-alls for blame, with every party believing he or she was not personally responsible for an adverse development. All participants in a program or project should feel accountable, and those who aren’t willing to step up in this regard shouldn’t be a part of the process.
  • Time and resource investment: Similar to the accountability factor, everyone involved in a project should be prepared to invest the necessary time and resources.
  • Communication: “Real executive communication drives action,” wrote Kenny and Blunt. Unfortunately, it’s all too easy to let communication efforts tail off after the initial briefing that usually occur at the start of a project. Moreover, it’s easy to think you’re communicating effectively when your methods actually leave a lot to be desired.
  • Attention: “A real commitment to ensure executive alignment up front and to continuously test it, combined with the courage to take corrective actions or stop the program when executives are misaligned, is required for large transformational program success,” the co-authors stated.

Firms concerned about establishing sufficient executive alignment may want to work with executive search consultants to identify potential candidates who are not only skilled leaders but also have the capability to collaborate and work within teams when required.

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