CIOs: create open communication by asking questions, listening and then asking more questions

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CIO Communication

Post University Michael Stratmore

An interview with Michael Statmore, CIO at Post University in Waterbury, Connecticut.

The Enterprisers Project (TEP): Creating open communication between IT and business can be challenging. What strategies have you found to be most effective?

Statmore: It's all about establishing and maintaining strong relationships with your business partners at all levels of the organization. This requires communication within your department and a commitment by each team member to get to know the players, personalities and issues within the departments that they support. Having a deeper understanding of your business partners heeds results in more productive working relationships, and positions IT as a valuable part of the team.

TEP: Is it most important to communicate with business leaders, with rank and file employees, with customers, or all three?

Statmore: You have to communicate at all levels--business leaders, rank and file and customers. But it's just as important that communication about business needs and challenges occur within the IT department. That's on both the data/development side and the infrastructure/desktop support side. Many things are learned or overheard by desktop support personnel, for example, that can be invaluable to data development or even to senior leadership.

When you've created a culture of collaboration and communication--within your department and across the entire organization--you're better able to support the business at all levels. I really believe that the more my people understand the business, the better they will support it.
 
TEP: What information do you most need to know from the business?

Statmore: It depends on who's doing the learning. At the C-level, you need to understand, have input, and clearly define how IT can support the organization's strategic plan. You also need to know how the business is performing and what the areas of concern are.

From a front line perspective, it's all about requirements. Business users should be able to tell the IT department what they need. Often business users will come to the table asking for a specific solution to a problem, but provide very little detail on why the problem exists or why they think they have the appropriate solution. If IT doesn't take a step back and dig into the roots of the issue, they're potentially setting themselves up for failure. One way IT can approach a conversation like this is to listen to the proposed solution, and then ask open-ended questions such as, Why would this solution work for you? Listen to the answers, and then ask follow-up questions until you feel you can see the whole picture. This is where understanding the areas of the business you support can make all the difference. Ask Questions. Listen. Ask more questions.

TEP: What strategies have you found most effective for keeping open communication going?

Statmore: Regular informal conversations with your business users are key. It really pays to periodically have quick conversations just to check in with your partners. Then, you have to share what you're hearing with your IT team members. If your IT members are considered valued members of your business partners teams, they will have a front-row seat to what is happening within those departments and can better understand how they can add value.

TEP: What advice would you offer other CIOs about keeping communication going?

Statmore: Start by strengthening your relationships with the other C-level and key senior managers within your organization. Poke your head into their office and ask how it's going or if they need anything. Do it sincerely and try to keep it brief, but be flexible and ready to spend time if they want to talk. Next, figure out where your blind spots are. See if you can align some of your resources with that department's resources. Build relationships from the ground up, and encourage your managers and front-line team members to do the same with their counterparts.

Minda Zetlin is a business technology writer and columnist for Inc.com. She is co-author of "The Geek Gap: Why Business and Technology Professionals Don't Understand Each Other and Why They Need Each Other to Survive," as well as several other books. She lives in Snohomish, Washington.

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