This is a guest post by Neil Farmer, a director of Informal Networks Limited. The company specialises in ‘switching on’ organisational intelligence.”
During their first few weeks, a newly appointed CIO will have lots of advice from subordinates keen to make their views heard. Some of these aim only to improve the service provided to customers, learning from past mistakes. Many, however, will be defending vested interests, seeking personal advancement or riding favoured hobbyhorses of dubious pedigree. So who should the new CIO trust?
The new CIO can be certain of two things: there will be weaknesses inherited from the past and (as always) significant things will need to change in future. So the most important voices to listen to will be those of the ‘practical innovators’- particularly those who are influential and respected by both ‘customers’ and colleagues. Put the org chart to one side and focus on identifying these key individuals, bearing in mind that:
“Unlike the formal leadership structure of a traditional organisation chart, in reality, there is not a single or small group of leaders in organisations but lots of them. Some leaders influence the views and behaviours of many people and some of just one or two. More than 75% of these leaders are probably not in the management hierarchy at all.” Source: The Invisible Organization, Gower 2008
Typically, these key people who are also innovative by nature make up only about 3% to 5% of total employees. Their potential is usually latent: sadly under-utilised, because typically the entire management hierarchy from top to bottom can only identify about a third of them.
So how does the new CIO set about identifying these golden needles in the organisational haystack? The answer is to use an experienced individual or consultant specialising in informal networks. There are a growing band of these, many of whom have experience of successful change programmes using informal techniques. The main ‘rules of the game’ are to:
Avoid using representative samples- likely to be biased
Start with ‘customers’ who have used IS/IT services – carefully choose a sample of the more innovative ones and see who they identify as likely candidates within the IT function
Talk with these likely candidates and get their views on ‘practical innovators’ across IT areas
Keep doing these iterative discussions until very few new names emerge. Rank by area and number of times mentioned
The new CIO now knows who to trust. Use like a lifeboat in stormy seas!