Patricia McMillan, Speaker, Author and Adviser, Patricia McMillan & Associates
It wasn’t too long ago that the CIO’s job was to keep things running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Technology was a support role, not a lead player. However, as organizations recognize the need to reinvent themselves for a digital, automated, customer-driven, hyper-connected world, this has changed. Technology is suddenly at the forefront of organizational strategy, and the CIO and CISO have the opportunity to be strategic partners.
Like all great opportunities, this one comes with some big challenges, and technology is the least of them. CIOs’ biggest challenges now lie in building trust and influence and overcoming the communication barrier that exists between technology and the business.
The secret to communicating with influence and impact is to think less about how to say what you want to say, and more about how to be of genuine service to the people you’re talking to. As Dale Carnegie said, “You can get anything you want in life if you just help enough other people get what they want out of life.”
In other words, stop thinking about how to tell your story and start thinking about how to tell their story. Here are five things CIOs and CISOs need to do to build influence and learn to speak in the language of their stakeholders and customers.
Find their currencies
You may see the inherent value in new technologies or platforms, but your audience probably doesn’t. Instead, you need to frame your message in terms of something that’s valuable to them. You need to find their currencies. Money and time are currencies for everyone; they’re safe bets. Can what you are proposing save them time or help them earn more money? There will also be currencies that are unique to your industry or organization. Whatever companies and individuals measure about themselves is a currency for them. A good place to start is to find out their KPIs. And don’t underestimate the value of currencies that help people to feel good, give them peace of mind, or raise their status with those around them.
Find their challenges
In order to help your stakeholders and customers overcome the challenges they face, you need to know what these problems are. A great way to do this is to go where they are, watch, and listen. Observe what they do as they go about their work, and have conversations with them. Not presentations where you’re the only one speaking, but informal chats. Another good way to find their challenges is to do some research by reading the publications they read and attending some of the events they attend. In other words, get into their world.
Know their context
Find out if there are key dates or deadlines that are important for them, and time your messages appropriately. For example, the end of financial year may be a critical deadline, or there may be important meetings they are preparing for or submission deadlines they work towards. Also find out about the other people in their world from whom they need approval or whom they need to influence. If you can help them with this, your own influence will grow.
Make it concrete
One of the main communication problems in any organization is the tendency to use abstract business speak and jargon instead of concrete, human language. The problem is compounded when technology terms are added into the mix. When we use abbreviations such as “IoT,” no one understands us, and expanding it out to “Internet of Things” doesn’t help much. It doesn’t create a picture in people’s minds about what this is or what it might mean for them. When they have to work too hard to understand what you’re saying, they simply shut you off. A great way around this is to use a real example or story that illustrates your point. Hearing a story is the next best thing to experiencing something in person. Stories make the abstract concrete, and therefore stories will make your messages more understandable, more memorable, and more meaningful.
Connect first, then inform
Another pervasive mistake that CIOs make is to present information without making the effort to establish a human connection first. As every salesperson knows, without this rapport your message has no chance. We like to think that if we explain everything clearly in rational terms, the facts will speak for themselves, but this is not how people make decisions. People’s decisions and actions are heavily influenced by their emotions and intuitions. This means they need to like you before they will accept your arguments. Find some common ground with your audience to establish trust before you start to unpack information. A great way to do this is to share a short anecdote about yourself that is relevant to what you’re about to tell them. It may be a counterintuitive approach, but the investment will pay huge dividends in the influence and impact of your message.