Feature

Strategy Clinic:Consult the experts

The problem:I am an IT director reporting to a finance director who sits on the board. I do not believe he represents IT in the best way, or understands the key issues. I see an increasing number of chief information officers now sitting on their boards, but I know that my boss would block me doing so. I am convinced he is protecting his position, what can I do?

The solution:
Make the finance director an ally

My advice would be to demonstrate to all concerned, from the chief executive downwards, the excellence of the service and of the strategic advice you give. Accentuate the positive. In an ideal world boards would admit to their number those who are the true strategic leaders and visionaries among top management, irrespective of job titles. They would also make informed decisions on which service delivery heads need to be on the board, depending on the nature of the business.

The real world does not quite live up to the ideal, of course. Remember, however, that your position could be a lot worse. Finance directors tend to be powerful figures in any organisation, you may be better off reporting to him than to another board member and, when things go wrong, as occasionally they do in even the best-run IT department, you may need a powerful voice to defend you and take a share of the responsibility.
Roger Marshall, Elite

Find a firm that values IT
This is a peculiarly European issue - the US largely dealt with it a decade or more ago. European companies generally lag behind their US counterparts in recognising the strategic importance of IT as an enabler of business change and an accelerator of business goals.

Drawing comparisons with Cisco and Sun has, until recently, generally not resonated well in Europe - especially with atoms-based, capital intensive industries. However, GE's recent recognition of the truly transformational nature of the Internet in particular, has established a new benchmark for those "old economy" companies that still make profits.

Industries vary in terms of the information intensity of their operations - but in these times to ignore the strategic and transformational potential of IT, Internet-enabled business models and mobile technology seems a little like Canute trying to hold back the sea. If you work for a company that doesn't "get it" maybe it is time to find one that does.
Peter Boggis, The Concours Group

Cultivate potential allies
You need to develop your political skills. Instead of trying to go through the closed door your boss represents, extend your locus of influence. Develop a broad network of contacts and convert them into allies. If you believe you need to present a better image for IT within your company, do it yourself.

This demands an emotionally intelligent approach, not simply promoting logic. Emotional intelligence gives you deep insight into others' covert agendas and enables you to work collaboratively with a wide range of diverse personalities. In time, you and your allies will find a solution to your conflict with your boss.
Robina Chatham, Cranfield School of Management

Make sure you know what you want
First ask yourself, "What do I want?" And answer it honestly. If you want that seat on the board you will spare yourself a lot of pain and frustration by engaging in an honest audit of your chances before working out your strategy. You may conclude that somewhere else offers you a better chance of a board position, but be realistic about your chances.

Maybe what you really want is to ensure that IT is properly represented to the board, that the company is not missing out on important strategic input, and that you and your team are properly acknowledged and valued for the contribution you make. Strategies should address a range of personal and cultural issues affecting behaviours and creating the environment you seek.
Brinley Platt, Impact

Build a business case
I f your motive is not self-aggrandisement and you genuinely believe that it is in the company's best interests that IT directors should sit on the board you must make the business case. Resist the temptation to undermine the financial director, this position is always a powerful one and you need allies.

IT is often regarded as a costly service function that needs controlling and therefore comes under the ambit of the finance director. However if you can convince the board that IT is a valuable business enabler your views are more likely to be sought directly. You should lobby the board to support a review of IS strategy. You will need to identify some tangible potential business benefits to gain the board's interest.

You could write the strategy yourself but you may find it better to commission consultants to conduct an independent study. You should ensure that you are given the opportunity to influence the scope of the review, and make sure the representation of IT is included. If there is a business case for you taking a seat on the board then this is likely to be a recommendation of the consultants' report. You will have more chance of success if the board or chief executive adopt it as their own idea.
John Eary, NCC Skills Source Consultancy

Marshall your arguments
There is probably little to be gained by arguing the toss with the finance director. The next step is to examine the calibre of the chief executive and his or her relationship with the financial director. There may be some mileage in seeking a discussion with the chief executive, having first informed the finance director in broad terms that you need to discuss future strategy with the chief executive.

If you achieve a one-to-one with the chief executive make sure that he or she perceives the concept of getting you on the board as bringing business benefit. Ensure that the finance director understands that his or her performance as de facto head of IT is not seen in a bad light, and that he or she does not see you as a threat. If this fails it might be time to consider your position.

If you are a good leader and manager and you have your own budget there may be another way. Engage an external consultant to do a short study of the IT department's organisation or business processes. Have the consultant give a presentation to the chief executive which proves that the IT department must have its own director on the board. You need to put an argument which will change your position in the food chain.

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This was first published in June 2002

 

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