Getting that coveted seat at the table may depend more on how you think about things than anything else. The key to developing “seat at the table thinking” could be thought of as having an executive mindset. Now I am sure many people can hear the phrase executive mindset and know instantly what it means. But for those CIO’s and senior IT leaders struggling to figure out why they are not getting a seat at the table, some details might be useful.
Seat at the Table
If you are not getting a seat at the table when the other executives are making the strategic decisions, it is very likely due to you not having demonstrated that you have made the transition from mid-level manager or director to that of an executive. It is even possible that you haven’t done enough to demonstrate you have even made the transition from technologist.
Operating Income not Operating Systems
Somewhere in your career you have to shift your focus and learn about the business. In some cases you might have to learn How to Become a Rainmaker. But for most, you simply have to have an intimate understanding of your business, its business model, the market forces and the strategy to respond to those forces.
You also have to develop a solid business acumen which means more than a working knowledge of finance and accounting, business law, and how decisions are made.
Because you can’t expect to know everything, you also have to know what questions to ask. Just remember, you will always have to know how to read an income statement. Lot’s of people acquire this knowledge the old fashioned way through an MBA. But that is certainly not the only way – just as long as you do learn it.
Getting a seat at the table requires that you are ready for the big boy discussions and decisions. There are few things bigger than discussions about cutting labor or keeping labor costs in check.
Notice that I am using the term labor not people or staff. That is because labor is a significant input cost to most businesses and business functions, including IT. As an input cost, labor is almost always a variable expense that must be managed.
Here’s a test. If as you read this section you immediately reject “labor” and substitute “people”. Or if you believe labor is a fixed cost versus a variable cost. You have just found on thing that is keeping you from getting a seat at the table.
If that is the case, you need to find a way to rewire your brain to think about labor as a cost you can control. Your ability to control labor costs is not limited to the project level. Controlling labor costs extends to the departmental level as well.
Just to be clear, nothing I have said here means the labor discussion is dispassionate. It just means that it is focused first on the business and the fiduciary obligations to investors.
I have also not said anything about outsourcing. Even if outsourcing was a part of the equation, you should already know that since the US economic downturn, the labor arbitrage advantage is shifting back to domestic strategies.
Learn From Human Resources
Human resources is a great source of insight for CIO’s. Regular readers may recall my post of the The Future of IT Looks More Like Human Resources and Facilities as just one insight.
The more relevant insight for CIO’s from human resources is that the human resource department, especially the VP or Director of HR is increasingly not a role focused on the people despite what the employees think. Human resources primary functions today are more about compliance, cost containment and the business bottom line than it has ever been.
Similarly, only when IT leaders understand that their role is not about information or technology, and begin to execute from that understanding, will they get invited to have a permanent seat at the table.