How to win the heart and soul of the CEO

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Any competent CIO knows how to run IT effectively – delivering on time and in budget. But the CIO needs to go further to win the attention of the CEO, by building a convincing case that they can truly help to reshape the future of the business. To do this CIOs should focus on six core messages – something that not all CIOs recognize or appreciate.


Margaret Thatcher, the former “Iron Lady” of British politics, once explained why she favored a particular colleague: “Other ministers bring me problems, but David brings me solutions.” A CIO who recognizes that the CEO wants the same has made the most important step toward winning the ear of the boss.

Any competent CIO should be able to run IT effectively: delivering key projects on time, managing day-to-day workloads and hitting budget targets. But outstanding CIOs – those individuals who CEOs regard as key business partners – do more: they play a vital role in business transformation.

To win influence in the boardroom, CIOs must convince their CEOs that they can help to shape the future of the business, delivering the technological tools required to meet its needs and developing structures that facilitate change.

To show the CEO that you understand the challenges your business faces – and can help it to meet them – you should focus on getting across six core messages to your CEO.

  1. You understand that resources are limited and have suggestions for how to do more with less. CEOs have little time for colleagues who whine about budget constraints – nor, for that matter, those whose grand proposals do not include rigorous cost-benefit analyses. Make sure all proposals from IT focus clearly on investment returns.
  2. You know that IT can play a key role in boosting productivity and cutting costs on a company-wide basis. Technology is a key enabler in business transformation, and you should be able to set out a vision for how IT can deliver a more efficient enterprise – not only the tools required, but also the processes for using them.
  3. You realize it’s not all about the debits column. The CIO is well placed to be an innovator who boosts revenues. You can bring product innovation and suggest new business models. The link between a company’s bottom-line performance and its effective use of technology is increasingly clear. Innovative CIOs command CEOs’ respect for their ability to deliver real competitive advantage.
  4. You believe that R&D is the lifeblood of a company’s future, whatever its industry. IT must therefore work closely with the rest of the business to drive R&D forward. CIOs play a key role in developing new and improved products and services – always remembering return on investment.
  5. You appreciate the need to win stakeholders’ trust. In the wake of the financial crisis, CEOs are now required to work ever harder to gain the support of internal and external stakeholders, ranging from employees to regulators to shareholders. CIOs can provide the data required to do exactly that.
  6. You know that sustainability is an increasingly important priority for business. As the CIO, you can set out a road map for ensuring that IT is a sustainable function, while working closely with other functions to provide them with the tools and technologies required to do the same.

6 thoughts on “How to win the heart and soul of the CEO

  1. So, rather then discussing radical innovation about neuromorphic computing and smart machines (seemingly on the rise by 2017..), we better develop a model that delineates a compelling ROI story around employees’ efficiency and effectiveness / corporate competitiveness gains, should we like to serve both CIOs and CEOs (AKA locking the client in..)

  2. It is simple: show the CEO you can deliver to the bottom line: drive revenue and reduce costs. Use technology to enable new customer channels. Use technology to automate manual processes. Use it to drive customer loyalty, enable up-sell and cross-sell. Use it to improve quality and customer experience.

    The trouble is not displaying all of this to the CEO. It is simply that many companies still do not give the CIO a seat at the boardroom table. CIOs are still seen as the “IT Guys” – who will deliver what you ask them to.

    1. Thanks Malcolm for your comment. It is true that many companies do not give the CIO a seat at the top table. We talked about this issue in our study: The DNA of the CIO (http://www.ey.com/GL/en/Services/Advisory/The-DNA-of-the-CIO). The “place at the table” is one major issue, but I truly believe that the value a CIO can add to the business often goes unnoticed and therefore CIOs could get better at selling themselves to the C-suite. Look out for my post next week where I will give insights into the importance of self promotion.

      1. Thanks Uwe. I agree that CIOs can do a better job at marketing themselves, but in truth, many CIOs are finding themselves out of their depth – merely because the DNA of the CIO has changed from a technology manager to a business-savvy individual. These “old school” guys will over time need to re-invent themselves but I think will most likely will face being superceded by young turks, those guys who did not study a Computer Science degree but rather a business degree. Over time, one needs to wonder whether there is even a role for a CIO: business leaders, and business unit leaders, will increasingly become more tech-savvy and tech will become more business friendly and less techie. Most tech will exist in a cloud / outsourced model, where businesses can simply plug in and out to functionality, features etc. Companies will have less to manage internally, and what they do manage internally is wrapped in a black box, and manageable by a non-technical person or by an external party. In this model, the CIO is literally sliced up with parts of him sitting in every business unit head and CEO. One day, perhaps.

      2. Malcolm, you are absolutely right. The DNA of the CIO has changed over time.
        However, I think the type of CIO really has to be differentiated from company to company
        and even from industry to industry. The type of CIO that is needed for a
        highly IT intensive industry strongly differs from those industries with less IT commitment.
        For some, their CIO “only” cares about IT infrastructure (storage, networks etc.).
        They are more like an IT Manager without a voice within the Board. Here, the IT strategy or the development of IT innovations
        is crafted by the CEO or COO as it is essential to their business model.
        Nevertheless, in other industries (e.g. retail), the CIO really has to care about IT strategy, IT services etc. on the one hand side, as
        well as to all tech-oriented matters on the other. We recognize that companies tend to insource IT services nowadays.
        Thus, I guess, a strong tech-profile of the CIO is still an added value to the company.

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