Why CIOs must think of themselves as products—and hostage negotiators

Prior to joining research firm Gartner in 2008, Irving Tyler was a CIO at IMS Health, and VP and CIO at Quaker Chemical Corporation.

In the late 1990s, he was challenged to address the ‘year 2000’ problem, or Y2K scare, as computer systems were readied for the new millennium, and he saw his skillsets develop in the areas of data centre management and ERP implementation.

That role, he says, is now long gone.

“The role of the CIO has expanded to be a business leader, visionary and architect, someone who can work with other executives effectively, not as a supplier and vendor but as a leader,” said Tyler, leader of Gartner’s CIO research team, at the company’s recent Symposium in Barcelona.

CIO ‘plus’ roles to lead business transformation initiatives

A Gartner study of technology leaders at Global Fortune 500 companies found that approximately 26% still had fundamental ‘run the business’ IT roles overseeing applications and infrastructure, while 30% had ‘plussed’ their role into business responsibilities, from back-office functions to front-facing engineering, product management and research development.

Approximately 44% of the surveyed CIOs and CTOs were now leading business transformation initiatives.

“These were initiatives to change the very core of their enterprises: how they go to market, how they develop goods and services, and how they optimise their supply chain,” said Tyler. “So the role is expanding; the value proposition is changing.”

When asked what kind of work CIOs and CTOs had done beyond atypical technology responsibilities, Gartner’s research found 80% of global Fortune 500 technology leaders were leading business initiatives, with 39% accountable to land the change in areas such as monetizing data to create new revenue, supply chain optimization, talent strategies and creating new digital products.

“These are new value propositions,” said Tyler. “I never would’ve imagined when I became a CIO that someday I’d be expected to lead these kinds of efforts.”

How CIOs find their value proposition

Despite the growing breadth of the CIO’s role, Tyler believes that technology executives can go further still, extending their value and influence within the organization by thinking of themselves less of a service provider and more of a ‘powerful, valuable product’, which senior executives, partners and peers need to do their jobs effectively.

“Product value proposition in business terms is something we develop when we’re trying to create the next generation of goods and services for our customers or citizens—any stakeholder we’re working with,” he said, giving the example that streamlining money could be the value proposition for a start-up financial services firm.

“Your leadership is a product that all of your executive team, partners, peers, and all of the people in your organization needs,” he said.

Tyler also suggested that CIOs must build their own product value proposition to deliver the maximum value to the business, and make a promise to stakeholders of how technology will help them achieve their desired outcomes, adding that technology leaders can take simple steps to start by understanding who consumes IT (most notably the executive board, functional leaders and technologists in and out of the technology team), and by deeply understanding their jobs, and how IT can remove pains and create gains.

“This is what we call value-fit,” he said.

By speaking with these individuals, asking them questions and building a profile of where they are and where they want to get to, CIOs can move beyond simply solving their role to expand their capabilities beyond what they imagined was possible.

Tyler gave the example of working with the CMO, who may be focused on providing better customer experiences through ecommerce, data platforms, content management and utilising AI to personalise and optimise customer journeys. Further inquisition, however, found that the ability do so was constrained by a lack of market standards on customer data platforms, a lack of technical know-how, and an uncertainty of how to assess technology suppliers—all of which the CIO could help with.

Tyler suggested three steps for CIOs to build their own product value proposition.

Step 1: Recognize and define each segment (editor’s note: marketers would refer to this exercise as developing personas)

Step 2: Survey each of these individuals, asking tough questions to understand their jobs, pains and gains

Step 3: Map your offerings to match, exploring differing levels of value (from the here and now, to where they want to go)

Why CIOs should act as hostage negotiators

Tyler also advocated for a radically different approach to winning hearts and minds from the boardroom down.

He said IT leaders need to look at building relationships similar to hostage negotiators by understanding whom they work with, building trust and credibility, assessing the level of risk to drive business value, and working together to come to a shared understanding.

This is particularly key, he says, for a CIO who only has accountability for IT, and thus needs to partner internally to drive change.

“You have to learn to negotiate your role to deliver these incredible transformational things that your leaders are trying to do,” said Tyler, adding that key business projects in finance, HR and supply chain are not under the ownership of the CIO.

Citing Lewicki and Hiam’s negotiation matrix, Tyler said there are five strategies to collaborate along the ‘importance of relationship’ and ‘importance of outcome’ twin axes. Four are suboptimal with most offering no value or resulting in the individual accommodating another for the sake of maintaining the relationship. Compromise doesn’t work either, he says, because neither party gets what they’re looking for.

“The only real strategy is collaboration,” he says. “Build something more powerful, more valuable so together, you both win. But you need techniques. Hostage negotiators have this brilliant set of tactics. They talk about building bridges, bringing two parties together, connecting them to accomplish something that is best for both parties.”

Tyler believes this starts with building empathy, trust and changing minds to new ways of thinking.

“[Hostage negotiator] Chris Voss says that negotiation is not an act of battle,” says Tyler. “You have to look at it as a process of discovery, to spend the majority of your negotiation time learning, exploring, finding out what’s going on. The information you get gives you power.”

To do this, according to Tyler, CIOs must understand the value system of the individual or team they’re working ­with to identify their jobs, challenges and opportunities, as well as where the shared value between them lies. Listening is essential, too, but just as critical is being respectful (which is not the same as agreeing), likeable and credible—being true to your word can make or break the relationship.

Reciprocity can also build bridges, with Tyler revealing not only that criminals are more likely to share information if they’ve been treated well, but research shows the most successful hostage negotiations have been those where the negotiator has built an emotional connection with the hostage taker.

This is called empathy mapping, another tactic used in product development, and Tyler said it can ultimately result in the two parties coming together on a shared vision, objective, and set of commitments, as well as shared risk for both parties.

But it’s not as straightforward as it sounds, as Tyler gave a personal example of when he got it wrong earlier in his career. Asked by a marketing director to roll-out a global CRM system in 90 days across 1,700 associates and 150 countries, he flatly refused and called his colleague crazy. “He didn’t appreciate my position because he was in a quarter and had to get this done,” Tyler said. “What I should have done is think empathy, start to learn, explore and understand his feelings and his vision.

CIO, Digital Transformation, IT Leadership, Relationship Building, Roles