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CIOs band together to lift Michigan's fortunes

Julia King | May 6, 2014
Three years ago, when David Behen signed on as the state of Michigan's CIO at the age of 42, he knew he didn't have all the knowledge or experience he would need to do the job. So he did what he says any good leader would do -- he asked for help.

Keys to success

Building your own kitchen cabinet

Collaboration and cooperation are at the heart of what makes Michigan's CIO Kitchen Cabinet work so well. But there are several other key ingredients to ensuring the success of such a group, members say.

"There first needs to be a rallying cry for the entire group," says Doug Wiescinski, a cabinet member and partner at Plante Moran, a Southfield, Mich.-based management consultancy.

With Michigan's CIO Kitchen Cabinet, "everybody shares the same mission in that everyone wants the state of Michigan to do well, and this was a way that IT professionals could help," he says.

At the same time, there must also be trust if the group is to discuss issues with candor. "There's an understanding with the group that what is shared in the room is meant to be kept in the room," he says. "People come back because they get the benefit of that candor. They can walk away after a couple of hours in a meeting and have a nugget of information they can use."

Certain things are best spelled out in writing, however. Kitchen Cabinet founder David Behen, the state of Michigan's CIO, says several members have had their internal legal departments review documents and ask cabinet members to adhere to nondisclosure agreements in cases where sensitive issues were discussed. But for the most part, competitive concerns have been minimal to nonexistent, and when they do crop up, they tend to be dealt with informally.

"People selectively don't come sometimes," if the scheduled topic of discussion is too sensitive, Behen says. "That's the freedom of the group."

Making sure the group doesn't get too big is another key to success, says Oakland County CIO Phil Bertolini.

"My advice is to find the right people and start small and then determine what the wins and benefits and value to be gained are by each person in the room. If it's not a win, people stop coming," he says. "We all know each other well enough that we're not afraid to throw things out on the table. If you had 100 people, you're less likely to talk."

Members also say it's essential for the group to address a variety of issues that impact everyone. "There's value in the variety, and you're always getting perspectives outside the industry you deal with," says BorgWarner CIO Jamal Farhat. "For me, it's very good to see how hospitals and banking do things versus just the automotive industry."

Chemistry among members is another component to consider. "Most of the people in the cabinet are people who [Behen] and I know, and we have been sensitive to ensuring that we all have good chemistry," says Wiescinski, who helped Behen select and solicit the group's members at the outset. "We wanted to make sure we didn't have anyone who is too domineering. We wanted people to be open, but on the other hand, we didn't want anyone talking to the press about the conversations we held."


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