How to Break into the Boardroom ... With a Smile

Louis Martinez, CIO, OmniSYS
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Louis Martinez, CIO, OmniSYS

You are a busy IT leader with a to-do list that no one else in your organization envies. Your team members know what the to-do list looks like, and they are there to support you, or you should be making moves to have such a team in place. In my experience, even the strongest IT leaders, from VP to CXO, maintain a level of humility keeping them grounded and, in turn, trusted by their team. The unfair effect of such a character is that it appears to have a direct correlation with regards to when, how, and if an IT leader is invited to the decision table; senior leadership, management, and/or board meetings. These are being held without IT presence and I suspect we all believe that can be a big problem. I’ve had countless discussions in many settings, such as conferences, forums, peer lunches, roundtables, etc., where there is still a high degree of the “IT vs. Business” mentality affecting our ability to provide superior service to the business, our internal and external customers, and our partners. What can be so hard about making sure you, as the IT representative, have a seat at the decision making table? It seems logical to expect that a business should have the support from all accountable representatives so that the decisions being made are achievable. Unfortunately, that’s simply not the case in many organizations, some of which are the most well-known and respected names in the world! What follows are tips and strategies that have been helpful to me in making sure I have a seat at the decision making table and lessons learned about just how hard that can be sometimes. I speak of the journey from the perspective of my current role as a CIO, however the same applies to whatever title the highest level of IT representative holds in an organization. 

"What you are fighting for while having the key business leaders in the room is credibility as a caretaker of the business through IT” 

I am hard pressed to think of an industry or business that is not dependent to some degree on some form of IT. New businesses seem to be more aware about the need for a good foundational plan, which is now inclusive of IT, and how it can be leveraged to maximize its outcomes. I’ve never worked for one of those types of organizations. Actually, I have had the blessings of working with well-established and long running businesses, and am proud of the battle scars and earned grey hair that I wear as badges of honor, not for me, but for the business as we transform from “this is how it has always been done” to “this is how we can be better, and moreover, here is the data to prove it”. There are those who can work very hard on the sidelines to make shadow changes, and accept that the business simply functions as it does,delivers workload to the IT organization and expects that it can be made to happen with no additional resources, investment, or time. If this is your world, decide now if you are willing to do what it takes to change that business process, or lack thereof. If the fight is too big, do yourself a favor because it’s about your sanity and that of those that depend on you – take a break and ask yourself if it is really worth it, and don’t be disappointedif you come to the realization that you are not the one who can drive that change. You are a senior IT Leader because you are talented. If you can’t drive change in your organization, take your talents elsewhere for your own sanity and peace of mind. It’s not a negative reflection of your capabilities or strengths. It’s a reflection of your perception of where the business is and if the fight is too big for you. Now, if you’re ready to take on the challenge (and I believe almost all of you fall into this category because we, as IT leaders, are agents of change), let’s read on. 

For 22 years I have had the privilege to work in Healthcare IT which isbowed by legacy systems, no APIs, little documentation, no support on aged hardware, too few resources -fragments of a long term vision. I’ve found out this is not a healthcare business issue, but just the byproduct of a business that remains relevant and the lights, somehow, are still on. The challenge right now is that the future of being relevant means growing the business and expanding the portfolio of offerings. We are creative and innovative, so to business growth we say Bring It On, but before we push forward allow me to shed light on our current situation. Start the conversation at the highest level. Find one hour with your CEO, CFO, and COO and discuss your baseline capabilities, risks, and opportunities for ensuring how IT, as a business unit, can deliver. Right now is your chance to crack open the door to the decision table and with just the few of you, the decision table is not cluttered as it is usually. It’s reality check time. Be prepared. Have the data and make sure it tells the story. This one discussion is the catalyst for your insight and ideas, playing the role they should in the organization’s decisions going forward. This is not an IT meeting. This is a business meeting. You are a business representative accountable for the IT capabilities of the organization in this meeting, but above all you are speaking in the best interest of the business, not your data center(s) or technical team members.   

Now, if the discussion does meet your expected outcomes, then breath, prepare again using feedback from your previous attempt, and do it again. You’re now pushing harder on the door and hopefully what you learned from the last discussion helps you make your points clearer. What you are fighting for while having the key business leaders in the room is credibility as a caretaker of the business through IT.The business comes first. Expect to compromise, but don’t give up on what you must have to be successful as a business.   

So how are we rewarded with a seat at the decision table? As the CIO, I am responsible for protecting and growing the business via IT, thus making us extremely valuable to our customers and partners. I work with my team to build for the vision of the business, and that vision has my fingerprints on it. I present our progress weekly, which continues to build credibility for our team. 

The door to the decision table is heavy. I didn’t force it open. I didn’t break it down. I knocked and smiled. I brought value with me, and each time the door opened just a little bit more. Now, the seat I occupy at the table is the voice for how we will become even more relevant. I hope you find your seat and never take it for granted. Good luck! 

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