Put yourself in the board's shoes

According to Christopher Young, managing director at IT director mentoring organisation Impact, there are three types of IT...

According to Christopher Young, managing director at IT director mentoring organisation Impact, there are three types of IT director, writes Ross Bentley.

There are those who are not on the board and report to a finance director or operations director, those who are on the board but are still kept out of the inner circle, and those who are on the board and have the ear of senior management.

This third position is where many senior IT people think that IT belongs but there are few IT directors who have reached even these dizzy heights. There are signs, however, that the tide is turning in favour of IT. But how does someone from the IT department reach an exalted position?

"To get to the board, a senior IT person must want to get there," says Young.

"He must be proactive. He must show well-refined personal values and leadership skills.

"He will need to become a business person and will need to demonstrate how business issues can be solved with IT. He will also need to understand the importance of shareholder value, strategic vision and profit and loss."

But what about the technology? "The technology side is still important," he says. "But, while technology can reduce costs, an aspiring IT director should be able to take technology to the business and reposition it in line with his boss' strategic objectives.

"If the company has declared that it wants to acquire other companies to improve shareholder value this could mean, for example, the IT director overseeing the design and implementation of an IT architecture that can assimilate new acquisitions quickly and efficiently."

Young says these are all traits that have been identified in reports from both Gartner and Impact. "The IT director must also see himself as a business change operator," he says. "He must be prepared to step forward and orchestrate that change. This requires leadership skills as well as charisma."

To make it on to the board it is essential that the IT director has a good team around him so that he can be assured that the IT systems are working and everything is in order when he steps up to the plate.

"To create the right conditions so you can think things out strategically, you need to know that your systems are ticking over nicely. If your systems aren't working and the plumbing is falling over all around you then you have no chance. This means you must bring together a team that is competent and is one that you trust," says Young.

"You must ask yourself whether you have people who can run the shop when you are not about. You should not be afraid of recruiting good people - you should not see them as a threat.

"You should say to yourself, 'I want you to have my job because I am going to have a better job'."

Young says IT directors that cannot recruit people of the right calibre should look at developing their people internally. "This is an area where leadership is vital - to help others to stretch themselves," he says.

"Before you make the step up, other people of influence within the company need to know that you are someone who can deliver. People trust someone who delivers, once you stop people's confidence in you will ebb.

"Put yourself about the business a bit, don't just talk with finance. Introduce yourself to other heads of departments such as the marketing director and ask him what his business issues are."

Young advises IT people with serious aspirations to try to envision themselves in a board position as an aid to understanding the psyche required.

"Indulge in forward thinking. If you have never been involved in managing a merger or acquisition - think through all the issues you will be expected to deal with. How would you go about it? Learn from the experience of others," he says.

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