As CIO, IT or Technology leaders, our ability to influence our organisations is a critical component of success. The relationships we have with our executives and peers are built on trust and credibility. These can often take years to establish and a single moment to lose. With technology playing such a vital role in the daily lives of our organisations, staff and customers. If we want to be able to influence, we first need to be able to establish and maintain credibility. In this post, I explore the common mistakes that ruin our influence in IT and what you can do to avoid them. 

In my blog last week, I explored 6 Amazing Influence Strategies for CIO and Technology Leaders. I spent almost a day writing, checking and perfecting it in readiness to share it with my regular readers and followers on Linkedin and other social media channels, but as it turned out, I made a mistake. Rather than my website name being listed as http://www.juliasteel.com, I left the http://www.websitename.com in my standard template in place and shared it.

I was mortified.

All of that hard work undermined by a silly oversight, one that went to the very heart of the influence I have as an expert and the credibility I have worked to build over the last couple of years. The irony was not lost on me, and the reality is that sh*t happens, especially when we are willing to put ourselves out there!

We run the risk of letting people down, give them a reason to question our credibility, and ask whether they trust us.

With more of our everyday lives being underpinned by technology, when it doesn’t work as needed our credibility as a technology leader is called into question. Sometimes with very public consequences that not only impact our organisations but our customers too.

Just last week here in Australia, the government department that supports Australian’s in financial hardship made headlines thanks to what was reported as an “IT error”. Last month, London’s Heathrow Airport made headlines due to a technical outage. Late last year even the CIO of South Australia’s Premier & Cabinet was sentenced to 25 months in jail for employee dishonesty and abuse of office.

These types of stories can have lasting impacts on our reputation, relationships, and even our careers.

Here are the common mistakes that ruin our influence and what we can do about them.

1) We don’t ask

Somewhere between all of the boxes and cables, the lines of code, and software releases, we forget to ask the basics. What do people expect? Expectations are more significant than just the requirements our stakeholders have. They go to the heart of their assumptions and beliefs. Our customers expect their data to be secure. They assume when a system goes down, it will come back up. That their devices are fixed in less than a day. These are just a few examples of where expectation vs. reality brings us unstuck. Simply because when we’re designing systems and processes we fail to ask what people expect.

I haven’t seen a headline reporting that a field was in the wrong place on a screen, have you? Yet failing to meet expectations is always there.

2) We don’t solve the real problem

With more technology being provided out of the box or as a service, it’s easy to go “straight to solution mode”. If the business wants a new CRM, it’s easier than ever to provide one but what problem are we solving? I recently worked with a CIO who’s organisation had invested in a new CRM but found they had the same issues as the old one. Poor adoption, missing data and no single view of the customer. While these are arguably business, not technology problems, who got the blame? You guessed it, IT! Simply because they hadn’t listened to the underlying issues that the company had and helped them solve them. All they heard was “new CRM”.

3) We don’t keep pace

As the world changes and technology shifts, so do the expectations of our stakeholders and customers. The new systems and platforms we put in place even 12 months ago could arguably already be behind where they should be. It doesn’t take long for something new to become old, and the perception of IT falls behind with it. In 2019, Harvard Business Review released their “Technology’s Role in Growing Workforce Engagement” report, in it they found that 86% of the 677 executives they interviewed believed that technology had a more significant impact on employee engagement than it did three years ago. Are your technology and team keeping pace? Do you know what people expect in 1, 3 and 5 years?

4) We don’t do what we say we will

Nothing hurts credibility more than not doing what we said we would. A project that is delivered late, over budget, or at its worst, not at all hurts our reputation. When we agree to dates to meet a business need, rather than what is realistic, the only status that is damaged is ours. Rather than demonstrating that we know what we are doing, we let people down, and they remember that over everything else.

Start small, get a few smarties in the bank and go from there.

5) We don’t have the tough conversations

Life is full of trade-offs, for everything that is in scope; some things aren’t. We don’t have all of the time and money in the world and we need to have tough conversations. Have the courage to explain what people aren’t going to get. Explain the risks that remain as they are risks to our reputation as much as theirs. If we don’t have them up front, they will point the finger at us, so it’s better to find our courage at the outset.


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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 build influence 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.

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