nicholas-colisto-c-suiteRelationships between CIOs and other members of the C-suite - namely, the CEO, CFO, and CMO - have changed dramatically over the past few years. 

Thanks to their expanding business savvy and their ability to connect the dots between business objectives and how technology can be leveraged to help the company achieve its goals, CIOs are increasingly being viewed as trusted business partners within the C-suite.

Without question, it's critical for CIOs to form strong partnerships with key members of the C-suite. But as many CIOs have discovered, there are smart steps that should be taken to strengthen individual executive relationships and 'gotchas' to avoid.

A good starting point is learning what your peers in the C-suite truly value. Spend one-on-one time with C-level peers on issues that matter to them. For instance, do they view IT as an opportunity or as a cost? 

Also, be sure to listen closely, inquire, and advocate. If you just sit back and listen and don't ask questions when talking with your C-suite peers, then it's just a one-way conversation. This is about active listening.

As an IT leader, remember that you're a business executive first. As such, you're expected to identify strategies with peers and add value to the company. Also, be sure to follow up on your commitments after you've blocked out your objectives to build trust with peers in the C-suite. Trust is the foundation of strong relationships.

The CIO-CEO Dynamic

As of 2016, 34% of CIOs reported directly to the CEO, representing a 10% jump from 2015, according to a study conducted by Harvey Nash and KPMG. This is good news for CIOs since this trend reflects growing confidence among CEOs who view the CIO as a trusted business partner. 

Still, there are nuances in the CIO-CEO relationship that must be addressed. For the CIO, it's the highest stakes relationship you're going to have. 

Ideally, the CIO should report to the CEO, particularly as CIOs are central to the orchestration and success of digital transformation strategies. In very large organizations, the CEO may be overwhelmed by having too many direct reports. In those instances, the CIO may need to have other reporting relationships (e.g. reporting to the CFO or COO). 

Another critical aspect of the CIO's role is in educating the CEO on opportunities to harness digital technology to recreate the business. This includes informing the CEO about trends in the market and opportunities for leveraging technology to outpace competitors.

In order to build a strong relationship with the CEO, it's also essential for CIOs to have one-on-one time with the Chief Executive, regardless of the reporting relationship. It needs to be an active partnership to discuss strategy and technology. A good CIO must inspire the trust of the CEO. If you don't spend enough time with the CEO, this makes it difficult to build up trust.

Another critical component for developing a solid relationship with the CEO is providing the unvarnished truth about operational issues you're facing and tackling. Do that during one-on-one time with the CEO and be transparent.

Building a strong, trustable relationship over time can help the CIO to gain visible support from the CEO in front of fellow members of the C-suite when times are tough. The CIO needs the CEO's support when there's pressure to cut IT spending and for the CEO to acknowledge that the company's technology investments are needed to support its business goals.

The Evolving CIO-CFO Relationship

The CIO-CFO relationship has been contentious at times. For their part, CFOs have strived to reduce spending and mitigate risk. Fortunately, CFOs increasingly recognize the need to embed mobile, analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT) sensors into products and services for companies to be competitive in today's marketplace.  

Research reveals that the bulk of annual IT spending goes towards `run-the-business' activities while just a small percentage of IT investments are used to move the revenue needle. This is an area where CIOs and CFOs can work more closely together. 

CFOs often ask if the company is realizing the benefits of IT/business investments. As CIOs, we should always partner with other business stakeholders to determine the KPIs we're going to use to measure each investment to ensure that we can come back to business leaders to demonstrate whether the investment has achieved its objectives.  

In the real world, many companies have poor processes in place to follow-up on whether such benefits have been achieved. In my experiences as a CIO, my teams and I have conducted post-mortems on projects in order to demonstrate to the finance committee whether or not IT/business investments have met their objectives. 

Partnering on Omnichannel Strategies with the CMO

The CIO-CMO relationship begins and ends with partnering to unify an omnichannel strategy to get the right messaging to the right customers at the right time. It's about leveraging mobile, cloud and analytics technologies to help CMOs and their marketing teams to communicate effectively with customers. 

With CMOs, you also have to partner with them to build business cases for solutions aimed at improving Net Promoter Score (NPS), market share, share of wallet, etc. As a CIO, you should get out and spend time with customers. By doing so, the CIO and the CMO are both hearing the challenges that customers are facing, what's working and what isn't working well in their interactions with your company. 

In addition to the 'Big Three' relationships, CIOs also must pay close attention to their relationships with members of the board of directors. The first thing to recognize is that you need to overcome the limitation of time. Building trustworthy relationships with the board takes time. If you're fortunate, you'll have an opportunity to meet with the board once a quarter. However, in many cases, CIOs may only get two chances during the year to get in front of board members, and it's often not the full board, perhaps just the audit committee. 

To address this reality, I suggest sharing written updates you'd like to put in front of the board with your business peers. Fellow C-suite executives, such as the Chief Counsel, can determine whether they want to put your written report into the package that goes to the board for that particular quarter.  A one-page rundown of top technology/business initiatives can be an effective way of relaying information to the board when you not able to meet with members in person.

Second, make time to have coffee with a board member and share progress with digital strategies. A few board members will care deeply about IT while others may have less interest. Educate board members on the power of technology and the impact it can have on the business and be transparent. Also, be sure to rehearse any important materials and messaging you're planning to present to the board. You don't want to be mechanical in your presentation but you do want to ensure that you convey your points in a salient way. Practice with another C-level leader to anticipate the board's questions. 

Understanding the Difference Between Alignment and Partnership

One of the most common mistakes CIOs can make with members of the C-suite is mistaking alignment with partnership. Alignment helps to guide decisions but partnerships contribute to achieving a shared goal. I've found that other business leaders have pulled back when we needed them to be leaning in because they didn't feel accountable for the success. They felt IT was doing the work for them rather than with them. 

Gaining alignment with stakeholders isn't enough. Partnership is needed to drive success and to gain the commitment of organizational leaders. The time that you and your leadership team spend with business stakeholders in the project planning stage to clarify roles and responsibilities will help you ensure that cross-functional team members and leaders are fully engaged throughout the project.