May 23 2008

Rate Your IT Management Prowess

Take this 10-point quiz, and read responses from other CIOs and IT chiefs.

    • Are you a good CIO or a great CIO? All federal IT chiefs try to combine their resources and opportunities in ways that lift their organizations to higher accomplishment and success. How well they do that is just one of the things that separates the good from the great. Which one are you now — or have you reached the pinnacle? Take our quiz and find out:

    • 1. The single most important trait for a great CIO to have is:

      A. Emotional intelligence

      B. Advanced understanding of cutting-edge technologies

      C. Ability to adapt to changes in business and technology

      D. Knowledge of the industry the agency regulates or the mission it must accomplish

      At the C-Level in any organization, successful people share common characteristics, including leadership, solid communication skills, the ability to create and foster effective working relationships with peers and emotional intelligence.

      But what differentiates the CIO from the CFO or the chief human capital officer? “A CIO needs to understand the business and technology,” says National Labor Relations Board CIO Richard Westfield. “Since technology changes at a more rapid pace than finance or human resources, a great CIO has to be able to bridge the gap between the evolving nature of technology and how to best leverage technology to support organizational change.”

      Correct answer: C

      (Emotional intelligence runs a close second, federal CIOs say. When faced with stressful situations where people are unhappy, can you react with grace and without showing your temper? Are you thick-skinned enough to handle second-guessing and criticism? Are you able to deal with people at the top who have a different agenda? CIOs need emotional intelligence to cope with the people, the politics and the headaches that come with the title, Westfield adds.)

    • 2. You’re a newly minted CIO. Your first goal should be:

      A. To impress everyone with your amazing knowledge of technology

      B. To impress everyone with your amazing insights into the business, mission and culture of your agency

      C. To impress everyone with your vision for saving money while modernizing the agency

      “If you’re going to get credibility in the organization at the senior level and with your colleagues and peers and employees, the first thing you need to do is show you understand the business and mission and culture of the agency,” says Jim Flyzik, former Treasury Department CIO and now president of The Flyzik Group of Bethesda, Md. “If you start right off the block with technology, you’ll be seen as a tech guy telling them how to run their business.”

      After you’ve gained a solid understanding of the business drivers and how your office can add value, then you can begin to build your team and create your vision for the infrastructure components that will lead to modernization and cost savings, he recommends.

      Correct answer: B

    • 3. What is the unit of measurement on the scale of CIO greatness?

      A. The size of your budget

      B. Your own internal compass that tells you how well you’re doing the job

      C. What your stakeholders, partners and agency leaders think of you

      D. The number of interviews that tech publicationsask you to do

      “It doesn’t matter how well you and your staff think you’re doing,” answers Westfield. “It’s what your customers, stakeholders and leaders think that counts. If your stakeholders and partners and leaders believe you’re adding value and doing a great job, you are on the right track to being a great CIO.”

      Correct answer: C

    • 4. I know my agency’s technology aligns well with its goals because:

      A. It’s my job to give guidance about technology choices for our agency, so the agency’s leaders don’t have to be IT experts and can focus instead on their own agendas.

      B. I have a knack for finding just the right technology to help my agency meet its goals.

      C. I discuss strategic goals with my superiors, my peers and my employees on a regular basis and set measurable goals based on those objectives.

      “One of the key differentiators of a great CIO,” says General Services Administration CIO Casey Coleman, “is the ability to tie your organization’s actions to the outcomes of the organization and its mission, business and strategic goals and not be limited to merely a technology-support focus.”

      When she’s evaluating new technologies, such as a recent telework initiative, Coleman’s not looking for something that would be cool for her staff to implement. “I’m asking, How does this help us achieve our telework goals or improve the efficiency of the agency or meet our strategic goals?” she explains.

      Having moved up through several positions in her six years with the agency, Coleman has learned the importance of talking in terms of business and results rather than technology.

      “GSA has a strategic planning process that’s resulted in a fairly new strategic plan,” she says. “It’s got a number of key goals and initiatives, and as we develop our IT plan, we go back to that strategic plan and establish a line-of-sight connection back to those strategic goals. I don’t want anyone to have a performance goal that doesn’t roll up into that strategic plan. We look for goals that are measurable so you can tell if you’ve done a good job on those goals or not.”

      Correct answer: C

    • 5. When it comes to personality, I am:

      A. Patient and persistent

      B. Introverted, but a still a good communicator

      C. Innovative and creative

      “A great CIO has to have the ability to develop and promulgate a clear vision and strategy and then to align your team up and down the chain of command,” says Navy CIO Robert Carey. “The CIO has to have the patience to stand through various phases of change management and to continue on with change management even in the face of adversity.”

      One of the operations Carey has led is deployment of the Defense Department’s Common Access Card in the Navy (CAC replaced the standard DOD identification card that all Defense personnel carry).

      During the implementation, he had to both explain and sell the product to base personnel across the globe, who weren’t asked their opinion before the decision was made to go with the new card. Challenges included coming up with innovative strategies to help users understand the card’s many uses for physical and logical access, and the fact that not all bases began to recognize the card at the same time.

      “We took a few beatings along the way, but we had to press on through that with patience and diligence,” says Carey.

      Correct answer: A

    • 6. When building your IT team, you should look for:

      A. Rising stars within the organization

      B. People smarter than you are

      C. Staffers with good people skills

      You can be the world’s smartest CIO, but you’re only going to be as good as the people on your team who implement your vision, so building the right team by focusing on human resources is vital to success. Successful CIOs know what drives each member of the IT team.

      “It’s a mistake for the CIO to believe they know more about technology than the people on the team,” says Flyzik. “If that’s true, you’re not hiring the right people. Have specialists and rely upon them so you can stay focused on the business side and keeping employees motivated and working toward your agency’s goals.”

      Correct answer: B

    • 7. Your technology knowledge is:

      A. Bleeding edge

      B. Cutting edge

      C. I’ve got my finger on the pulse of it.

      Coleman knows that keeping up with technology is itself a full-time job, so she relies on her staff and advisory organizations to keep her informed on bleeding-edge technology.

      “Other people can stay on top of emerging technology,” she says, “but no one else can be the CIO and set IT policy for the agency or tie the IT initiatives to the agency’s goals.”

      Correct answer: C

    • 8. The most significant difference between a great small-agency CIO
      and a great large-agency CIO is:

      A. The size of his or her budget

      B. How well he or she deals with OMB oversight and directives

      C. The size of his or her desk

      D. Larger-agency CIO’s wear power suits.

      Sure, resources are more plentiful at the 24 biggest agencies. They have large budgets, big contracts and the staff to support those, but the most significant difference between being CIO of a small agency and a large agency is the amount of oversight the Office of the CIO receives from the Office of Management and Budget.

      Large agencies account for more than 99 percent of Federal IT dollars; therefore, what they do and how they spend taxpayer dollars is scrutinized much more closely than at small agencies. OMB grades large agencies using the President’s Management Agenda scorecard, and these agencies must report on where they stand relative to many federal IT and management mandates. “The small agencies, for most part, aren’t graded red, yellow or green on anything, and we tend to like that,” says Westfield.

      Correct answer: B

    • 9. When it comes to getting credit for your efforts, a smart CIO knows:

      A. It’s not really important who gets credit, it’s enough just to do the job well.

      B. It’s important to have a whole team dedicated to spreading the good word.

      C. Having a public-information officer on the CIO team is vital.

      If you don’t make sure that stakeholders know what’s going on in your office, then you run the risk of being falsely faulted for not getting things done simply because people aren’t aware of what you’re doing. Fail to respond to Congress or OMB, and you’ll find yourself in even deeper trouble.

      At Treasury, Flyzik developed a small team whose primary responsibility was to keep communication channels open with stakeholders, including congressional staff members, OMB, the White House, the private sector and academia.

      “One thing that I really went out of my way to do was to make sure that we were transparent,” he says. “You can’t spend all your time just on that. But make sure people know what you’re trying to do and that you’re responsive to outside requests for information.”

      Correct answer: B

    • 10. How do you spend your time?

      A. 50 percent talking to peers and colleagues, 40 percent talking to direct reports and 10 percent focused on external liaisons

      B. 30 percent talking to peers and colleagues, 30 percent talking to direct reports and 40 percent focused on external liaisons

      C. 20 percent talking to peers and colleagues, 60 percent talking to direct reports and 20 percent focused on external liaisons

      “The majority of the day should be spent on business problems as you work with peers and colleagues,” says Flyzik. “The other half the day gets divided up among interpersonal communications with employees — working with them on issues and keeping them informed. That leaves maybe 10 percent of your time to focus on external liaisons.”

      It’s a mistake to think that you’re going to do it all yourself instead of delegating. “It’s important to have good folks and then trust them to make good judgments and not punish them when they make mistakes or take risks,” says Flyzik.

      Correct answer: A