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Tips for speaking like a business strategist

Tracy Mayor | Feb. 11, 2014
As an IT pro, you know you need to think strategically, but can you speak strategically, too? CIOs share advice on how to catch the ear of senior management.

"There is a leadership component to being a strategic thinker," says Aimia's Doniz. "You need to have that people skill to bring people along with you." Especially in new, hyperconnected organizations where reporting lines are fuzzy, employees will need more than a simple direct-report relationship before throwing their support behind a strategic initiative.

"It's corny to say," Doniz says, "but it's true: A leader is not somebody with a title; a leader is someone people want to follow."

Career Advice

Create Your Own Opportunities
You have ideas, but how do you bring them to the attention of the people who matter? IT leaders share some tips:

• Raise your hand early and often for special projects and, once on the team, try to inch your role closer to the business side, advises Tim Peterson, EVP and CIO at Wellmark.

• Once on a project, don't be shy about approaching key stakeholders directly. Ask questions, share your ideas and solicit their opinions, says Stuart Beesley, interim CIO at Smiths Group.

• Take advantage of departmental promotions, staff changes and reorganizations. Peterson recently realigned Wellmark's IT department around multidisciplinary teams, creating a good opportunity for individuals to enhance their strategic roles.

• If your company has a mentorship program, use it as an opportunity to forge a close relationship with a senior thought leader, says Tom Van Winkle, director of information security at Alliance Data's Retail Services division. If not, be brave and initiate one-on-one conversations with higher-ups to vet your ideas.

• Ask to take part in professional development programs and attend industry conferences. If you do get to take advantage of such opportunities, be proactive in sharing what you learn. Debbie Madden, former CEO at software programming house Cyrus Innovation, was pleased when an employee who'd attended off-premises training set up an informal brown-bag lunch to share his knowledge. Such sessions are a good way to interact with business colleagues you might otherwise not encounter frequently.

• Fill a gap. Look around at what's not being done in your company -- then do it, advises Susan Doniz, chief information, digital and product officer at Aimia. Particularly in small or fast-growing companies, "there are lots of gaps in terms of what needs to be done and nobody doing it." If you worry you're not fully qualified, "fake it until you make it," she says.

Tracy Mayor

Tough Questions, Better Outcomes
What's the No. 1 barrier to delivering tech-centric solutions that align with your company's strategic vision? Business stakeholders themselves often don't know what they want, don't know why they want it, or want something that's out of sync with the strategic plan. Too often, IT goes along down the wrong path rather than having a difficult conversation at the outset of a project, says Debbie Madden, former CEO of software development firm Cyrus Innovation.


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