3 ways CIOs can empower their teams during uncertainty

Economic uncertainty calls for strong leadership. Consider this expert advice to guide your team through turbulent times with confidence and empathy
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The role of the CIO has evolved from technology decision-maker and IT gatekeeper to change agent and strategic business partner, influencing decisions that impact client and customer-facing business initiatives. In addition to serving as technology experts who lead the traditional enterprise IT organization, CIOs now lead collaborative, cross-functional initiatives that drive business impact.

Additionally, CIOs must be change leaders, driving innovation and business agility at scale. In times of economic volatility, CIOs, more than ever, are tasked with helping organizations ride out the storm.

Economic uncertainty may force more organizations to scale back on hiring plans, and there may be pressure to do more with less. CIOs learned some important lessons in the early days of the pandemic – including that many organizations are more resilient and adaptable to disruption than they were just three years ago.

However, there is still room for innovation and to turn risk into opportunity. Here are three key ways CIOs can help lead their organizations through a turbulent economy.

1. Prioritize

Businesses are collecting more data daily, and how that data is utilized informs the strategic planning for the entire organization. CIOs are the stewards of this data and must establish analytics that glean the most important insights for setting priorities in their business.

[ Also read Motivate your IT team using this leadership advice. ]

By understanding data from different parts of the business, CIOs are in a unique position to see first-hand what efforts are producing the highest return. They can also identify gaps in knowledge and efficiency. Data analytics provide information used to set goals and expectations that allow the company to adapt in real-time as priorities change.

As data stewards, CIOs will determine the origin of the most relevant data points and must be able to present these to other C-suite executives to help them make the best-informed choices. CIOs must work hand-in-hand with their fellow executives to understand the needs and constraints of each department to provide data insights that guide the company’s strategic vision.

By uniting the needs of the departments with data-backed analytics, CIOs can be leaders in achieving a unique, healthy balance and devoting resources to the right places at the right times.

2. Nurture talent

The pandemic forced organizations to find creative solutions for remote workers, abandoning traditional office models and using new digital technologies to maintain consistent working environments. Driven by the CIO and IT department’s ability to facilitate a hybrid workforce, organizations increasingly recognize its benefits, including a broader, more diverse talent pool, reduced turnover, and improved productivity.

However, new hybrid working models can also bring challenges. With many employees working remotely, some companies struggle to maintain a strong culture and positive environment. The CIO can play an important role in addressing this by improving the employee experience and enabling team members to stay connected and collaborative with their co-workers.

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As the face of the IT department, CIOs can set the tone for a company’s culture, both inside and outside the building’s walls. They can articulate why new digital technologies are implemented and foster a forward-thinking environment. Additionally, they can connect the day-to-day actions of IT with their greater strategic vision.

As the face of the IT department, CIOs can set the tone for a company's culture, both inside and outside the building's walls.

This positions the CIO as a thought leader and drives engagement with employees. Being intentional about the narrative and sharing it internally and externally will bring in greater talent, help motivate and retain teams, and inspire confidence in the direction of the company.

3. Foster agility

A company’s ability to adapt – its agility – is a good indicator of its resiliency through market changes.

There are many definitions of an agile enterprise, but the best way to think about it is an organization that puts the customer first. One of Amazon’s four principles is customer obsession rather than competitor focus. Companies that obsessively understand and respond to changing customer needs will be better prepared to withstand the impact of economic volatility. Businesses that aggressively implemented omnichannel strategies during the pandemic, such as buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS), direct-to-consumer (D2C) channels, and same-day shipping options, are examples of this customer-centric, agile mindset.

CIOs can help drive enterprise agility by always putting the customer at the center of decisions. The CIO can collaborate closely with business leaders to understand the business priorities and then develop a plan for how technology can drive the most value for the customer.

CIOs can also refocus IT teams to be more accountable to customer experience and satisfaction, motivating them to innovate for the customer's benefit.

Steady leadership in times of uncertainty

With digital innovation and technology applications extending into every aspect of business, CIOs are no longer judged by their ability to maintain functioning systems. Instead, they have become leaders in shaping the business and driving innovation.

Tough economic times shouldn’t relegate the CIO to steward back-office systems. CIOs who understand the strategic position of IT in today’s enterprise should emerge stronger than ever.

[ Leading CIOs are reimagining the nature of work while strengthening organizational resilience. Learn 4 key digital transformation leadership priorities in a new report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. ]

Global Head of Consulting at LTIMindtree, Sreedhar Bhagavatheeswaran heads consulting services. He comes with rich and diverse experience in the Banking and Financial Services industry. He has worked with several global financial services institutions helping them innovate with digital technologies.