3 ways CIOs should approach IT team accountability

Holding others accountable is an essential aspect of leadership, but it isn’t always easy. Consider these tips to keep teams – and projects – on track
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Holding people accountable is one of the most important – and sometimes one of the most challenging – aspects of a leader’s job. For CIOs, the success of a project intended to propel a company forward often depends on how well they hold their IT teams accountable.

That can be tricky. Tech workers are in high demand, and they can be demanding in turn. A recent Gartner survey shows that globally, only 29 percent of IT workers have high intent to stay with their current employer.

[ Also read 3 E’s of effective leadership. ]

Like many workers during The Great Resignation, IT workers are leaving their jobs for various reasons, from a lack of workplace flexibility to incompatibility with their boss. But for successful companies, accountability is non-negotiable. Projects must be completed on time and on budget, and CIOs charged with this critical responsibility need to get the most out of their talented people without pushing them away. That requires exceptional communication, respectful management, and thoughtful engagement with valued team members.

3 tips for CIOs to hold teams accountable

Here are three tips that guide how I approach accountability with my teams:

1. Expect the unexpected

A leader’s job is to see the big picture from 30,000 feet and stay calm despite the occasional clouds or thunderstorms. Doing that well enables you to effectively tap your team’s talent and deliver results.

Despite even the best-laid plans, obstacles arise. For example, your programmer might say “Sure, I can build that.” And he does, but it may not be on time or meet the stated requirements, perhaps because he didn’t fully understand the business or practical applications. Once you course-correct, he’ll make the necessary changes – but in the process, something that was a core essential may be broken.

No project or journey is entirely predictable. That’s why nearly everything that’s at stake requires clear, specific, and consistent communication. Project management is not a defined and sequential process. It’s more like managing from a turret – you must look in every direction, with an eye for what may be going wrong and noticing where your team may be under attack, externally or internally.

2. Check in regularly

As the leader who’s developing the roadmap, you must be open to team input and trust outside expertise, and this takes courage. One purpose of checking in is to create and share a sense of accountability for the project journey. Checking in can be an important source of information about the functionality of the team and potential support needs.

Checking in can be an important source of information about the functionality of the team and potential support needs.

Consider, for example, the value of checking in ahead of an upcoming deadline. If your developers, for example, say it will take at least three days to accomplish a key task, consider pushing on that a bit: “Let’s check on it in two days to see how it’s going and if you need more time.” That way, you’ve both acknowledged that three days might not be enough time while also moving in from the deadline to reassess progress.

Checkpoints are valuable markers to measure progress. I once stepped into a project on which a team had been working for eight years without reaching its goal. This wasn’t a matter of mere dysfunction. The team was working 45-hour weeks and holding all its regularly scheduled meetings. But no one had ever stopped to ask, “Are we okay with this?” Rather, they simply accepted that the process would be slow – to the point where no one believed in its vision any longer.

3. Aim for alignment

Playing to people’s strengths encourages them to go beyond what they think they can do. If your team members are already engaged with the project and committed to achieving its stated goals, you’re perfectly positioned to encourage your team members to test their limits.

At the same time, don’t let them test your limits. You need people on your team who are aligned with your vision, not naysayers who try to append their own personal requirements or business interests to the task at hand.

You want people who understand big-picture requirements and can adapt to change. Your team members should understand that getting the necessary work done sometimes means pushing their limits. When that happens, accountability takes care of itself.

[ New research from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services identifies four focus areas for CIOs as they seek more flexibility, resilience, and momentum for digital transformation. Download the report now. ]

Denise Brinkmeyer is the author of Project Orienteering: A Field Guide For Project Leadership and president of Jump Technology Services®.

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