As CIO or technology leaders, our ability to influence our organisations is a critical component of professional success. This post contains seven amazing influence strategies that you can use to help get traction in your business, deal with difficult stakeholders and ultimately, get things done.  

Back in 2000, a much younger, greener version of me walked into IBM’s head office in London. I met a guy called Peter, who handed me my security pass and bag of CAT5 cables. We walked out of the office, down the street, and into a client’s office where I crawled under every desk, patched every panel, and racked and stacked what felt like every cabinet.

In 12 months I hardly saw anyone, IT happened behind the scenes, generally out of hours, and often in the dark.

Fast forward to 2016, and I was asked to lead a digital transformation program here in Australia. When I walked in on Day 1, I was surrounded by people from across the organisation. Both the business and IT working together in a way they called “business-led” and with that came a challenge.

Those who had the most influence won and, more often than not, that wasn’t IT. The tech teams got frustrated, progress was slow, and many of the critical decisions got escalated on both sides of the fence in the hope that their leader’s influence would make a difference, but often, it didn’t. The business got what they wanted, even if the outcome wasn’t the most optimal solution for them.

From those early days at IBM to now, the role of IT has changed dramatically. Expectations have shifted from our purpose simply being to make IT work, to technology being a critical enabler that needs to work both functionally and financially for our organizations. We are no longer just connecting boxes; we are connecting people – our employees, customers, and beyond – and to do this, we actually have to work with people too.

Only a few in technology ever get taught how, and instead, we get to learn about influence the hard way, and often that hurts.

So here are my seven amazing influencing strategies for CIO and Tech Leaders, I hope they help:

1) Turn talk away from technology

This may sound counter-intuitive, but let’s face it, we love talking about tech, and most of our stakeholders don’t. While we’re tossing up private vs. hybrid cloud strategies, people on the front line are dealing with increasingly demanding customers, using tools that don’t do what they need to, all with bottom lines under growing pressure. Our organisations need technology, but they don’t need us to be talking about it ALL. THE. TIME.

How many hours did you spend last week talking tech? If you want to influence outcomes, be willing to turn talk away from technology and towards the problems, it is there to solve. Reach out to your peers and spend time with people in their part of the organisation. Go and see what works and what doesn’t. Ask them where their tech challenges are.


2) Understand that your IT strategy isn’t really yours

I’ve seen many IT leaders build grand plans that promise to “revolutionise our legacy environment and simplify our technology footprint” or equivalent for eye-watering amounts of money but what does that mean to the rest of your organisation?

According to ADAPT, 65% of the CIOs they surveyed reported that conflicting business priorities among departments were a top barrier to success, but how can this be? If IT is a business enabler, our strategies should enable their plans, and the conflict shouldn’t exist. They should fit like hand and glove, carrot and stick; you get my gist?

Conflict only exists when we write strategies in isolation, when our priorities don’t match theirs.

If you want to influence, build credibility and write it with them.


3) Be clear on the role of your team

Most organisations see their IT department as an internal solution provider. We use language like “partnering with the business”, and then we wonder why they think they have a say in everything. They don’t, or at least shouldn’t in my view. I see very few leaders challenging finance or HR on accounting or workplace practices, the difference being that they have retained clear accountability for setting strategy and standards across the organisation when IT teams often haven’t.

I haven’t read any articles on “shadow” holiday agreements in the same way that I’ve read shadow IT, have you?

The distinction CIO’s and Technology leaders need to make is that “what problems need solving and why” should be done in partnership with the rest of the organisation. How these are solved, the solution part is where IT’s accountability and influence needs to come through.

This is where the discussion on your cloud strategy needs to come through.


4) Leverage partners and industry insights

With our IT now reaching way beyond our premises and into those of our vendors and partners, often, the best voice to deliver a message isn’t ours alone. Understanding what our competitors are doing and trends across our industries more broadly are vital in influencing discussions in the c-suite. Lift the conversation above what you are doing compared to other CIO’s and up to what the CEO’s and CFO’s of other organisations are investing in. No leader wants to feel left behind, so work with your partners, get industry insights and find the case studies that give your strategy and projects weight.

Get your preferred partners in front of the right people, so you’re not alone voice too.


5) Find the embarrassing stories

Every organisation has embarrassing stories. The story that if it got out, it would be mortifying. In IT, these stories are things like software that makes space invaders look modern. They are old consoles that someone still has to put a disk in physically. They are the “human-glue” responsible for transferring data between systems because no one has got around to connecting them yet.

We all know the stories, we’ve all seen them, our job is to help others see and remember them too. In her book, Smart Tribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together, neuroscience expert Christine Comaford outlines that our emotions drive 90 per cent of human behaviour and decision-making. What this highlights is that, despite you presenting a credible idea, it is people’s emotional connection and response to it that will influence their decision making more than the logical case you put forward for an idea itself. Stories are what creates this connection!

Next time you’re looking for investment in a new platform, invite your CEO and CFO to try the existing one themselves. Find the customer feedback that highlights that the current way of doing things is sh*te. Ask employees to share stories about how hard it is to work in your organisation.


6) Lift the influence of your team

When I work with CIO’s on lifting the influence of their team, I ask “how many escalations do you get?”. It’s a simple question but an insightful one. The more your team escalates to you to resolve, the less influence your team has to get the outcome themselves. Rather than pulling them out of the weeds, they pull you in, which in turn undermines your importance. You spend valuable time on issues that you shouldn’t as you watch the real leadership conversations sail by.

Start setting different expectations with your team. For those that get it, empower them to influence up and across the organisation. For those that don’t, add it to their professional development program. Have a regular conversation about your relationships with stakeholders in your leadership team meetings and off-sites. Don’t just talk about the outcomes you want; set clear steps on how to get it. Find the stories, share the wins, so that the great work that the organisation is doing is visible.

These all build credibility so that IT isn’t something that happens in the dead of night anymore.

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About Julia

Julia Steel

Julia Steel has over twenty years of experience leading significant technology transformation and business change for organisations around the world.

As an executive coach, trainer and facilitator, Julia works with leaders and their teams to influence change and get the buy-in they need to succeed.

If you’re struggling to get traction or win support for your strategy, Julia is your go-to for expert guidance on how to overcome barriers and achieve success.

Julia is the author of Buy-in: How to Lead Change, Build Commitment and Inspire People and an alumna of Stanford University’s Executive LEAD program.