In which Jill shares what works for change agents in the new IT.

It’s a discussion in meeting rooms, boardrooms, hotel conference rooms, and post-conference cocktail parties: Why isn’t IT working? Ask anyone in a corporate or government job and you’ll get an earful. As I was writing this book, I’d occasionally throw the question out to friends, clients, and beleaguered airplane seatmates.

The responses come fast and furious. They don’t speak our language. They’re too focused on resume-building and tinkering, not on driving business value. We don’t understand what they’re saying when they talk. They play favorites with vendors. The CIO hides in his office. They’re always “in the weeds.”

— The New IT: How Technology Leaders Are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age (McGraw-Hill, 2015), page 5.

As I spoke to executives both inside and outside of IT for my latest book I was reminded more than once of Tolstoy’s quote about happy families all being alike, but unhappy families each unhappy in their own way. Complaints about IT run the gamut, with lack of agility, insufficient vision, and tone-deafness merely three in a long list of perceived dysfunctions.

What’s a CIO to do? Many, sensing the creeping disaffection of their constituents, restructure their organizations. Such change, the thinking goes, should be disruptive enough to get attention, yet not so disruptive that the best employees start updating their LinkedIn profiles. The act of moving boxes and lines around an org chart gives the leader the (usually misleading) sense that action is being taken and progress is being made.

But too often organizational change is nothing more than a feeble attempt at goodwill. The CIOs who are profiled in The New IT have all succeeded at disruptive change by first looking at entrenched behaviors. By deconstructing their own department’s weaknesses—sometimes re-crafting their own roles—these leaders have been able to define fresh success measurements and rules of engagement with business units, often leaving their organizational structures intact.

“You can’t lead from your office,” said H. James Dallas, CIO Emeritus of heath care device giant Medtronic. “Medtronic’s mission was to alleviate pain, restore health, and extend life. So I went and watched some surgeries. I saw heart surgeries, deep brain surgeries…I actually saw a man’s skull on the operating table!”

Dallas, profiled on page 78 of The New IT, personifies the new leadership style: operationally-savvy but digitally-aware. Tactically-skilled but strategically-focused. Leading from both in front and behind. Politically-astute but not politics-driven.

In researching the book I spoke to over 30 business and IT leaders about how corporate IT must evolve to stay relevant. Those who are making IT work, re-designing it as a broker of services and a hub of innovation, understand that this may mean not only adopting new organizational frameworks, but also doing things differently.

Editor’s note: Jill’s fourth book, The New IT: How Technology Leaders are Enabling Business Strategy in the Digital Age, was recently published by McGraw-Hill.

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