IT Forefront

The 7 habits of highly effective CIOs

by Andrew Rebhan and Mark Hetz

Dr. Stephen R. Covey was a self-help and management guru most known for his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. In this blog, we list each of the seven habits as Covey defined them, and then identify ways that IT leaders can apply these habits, based on input from leaders in the field.

New report: The 4 pillars every IT leader needs to adopt

1. Be proactive—the initiative in life by realizing that your decisions are the primary determining factor for effectiveness in your life

Our take: Right or wrong, a CIO or other IT leader often has to earn his or her place at the executive table. A passive CIO is headed for trouble―few organizations will define your role strategically or arrange effective IT governance for you―you must continually take the initiative, and take responsibility for your results. An IT leader who only does what his or her users ask is not going to earn that seat at the table.

  • Assess your organization from the CEO's perspective: Look at what makes the organization work, do your own business analysis, and determine how you as a leader can help.

  • Use this information to avoid becoming just an "order taker" by initiating brainstorming and "what-if" exercises with your users.

  • Ingrain proactive service into your department―make it a priority to identify problems before the users do, and encourage staff to suggest uses of technology to their users instead of waiting for requests and fending them off.

  • Speak first to the impact on the organization and its customers, not the impact on the IT department.

2. Begin with the end in mind—self-discover and clarify your deeply important character values and life goals

Our take: Develop an IT strategy to achieve the organization's mission and vision. Strategy definition is difficult during times of major change, such as what we face today, but that makes it even more important. To develop an effective strategy:

  • Set business or clinical goals and objectives, not IT goals. For example, the goal of your business intelligence (BI) strategy should not be to "build a data warehouse," but to "improve financial performance," "improve clinical quality," or "reduce readmissions."

  • Focus on producing value, not capability. And plan two or three years out—do not get swallowed by today's operational problems.

  • As part of your strategy, define ideal departmental roles and relationships, and then plan to make them a reality.

3. Put first things first—prioritize, plan, and execute your work based on importance rather than urgency

Our take: Is what you are doing now moving you toward the vision and mission you defined in Habit 2? To know this, you must understand how your resources are currently allocated.

  • Do you know how many of your FTEs are allocated to "keeping the lights on," to upgrading existing applications and technologies, and to new strategic initiatives? And do you know how this mix is changing based on the new initiatives in your queue? Only when you have this information can you help your fellow executives understand what you are doing, and what can and cannot be done without new resources.

  • Develop IT roadmaps that show how technologies and applications will evolve; use these roadmaps to communicate both inside and outside the IT department.

  • Do not commit to more than you can deliver―you will only disappoint yourself and others, and keep them from developing their own innovative solutions.

  • If you are saying yes to everything, you are not prioritizing. Saying no (or better, saying not yet), may not win friends in the short term, but can win respect in the long term.

4: Think win-win—genuinely strive for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships

Our take: Work for mutually beneficial solutions or agreements in your relationships with your managers, peers, and staff. Avoid short-term "wins" that benefit you or your department but are not the right long-term answer for the organization as a whole.

  • Be open to doing what is needed for the organization even if it conflicts with your carefully crafted technical architecture. Be a leader who is more concerned for the fate of the organization than for optimizing IT.

  • Focus on identifying and lowering the barriers to doing good work, including lengthy processes to do simple recurring tasks, juggling too many priorities, or having inconsistent priorities.

5. Seek first to understand, then to be understood—use empathic listening to be genuinely influenced by people, which compels them to reciprocate the listening and take an open mind to being influenced by you

Our take: In today's environment, skilled IT staff have many alternatives to working for you. Your willingness to understand them before being understood is part of a culture that will retain the best people. Work to make this principle a part of the culture of your department.

  • Send your IT staff into the field: Emphasize knowledge of the organization, how it works, and its goals and objectives, not just IT―make sure your staff know they are working in health care.

  • Change management is a key to implementing new technology, and we want people, especially clinicians, to "comply" for the good of the organization. However, research shows that before they comply, clinicians must know that the organization understands and values them and their needs.

  • Make it a practice to start by understanding the current state and what users are trying to accomplish, rather than just what demands will be put on IT. Focus the discussion on how to accomplish what is asked for, not on why you cannot do it.

6. Synergize—Combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork to achieve goals no one person could do alone

Our take: Use more cross-functional teams, both inside the IT department and with other departments.

  • Try "walk-a-mile" programs, cross training, Agile development techniques, joint application design, and workshops to provide focus and direction, but also leverage cross functional knowledge and skills. Invite your colleagues to join you in creating or refreshing your IT strategic plan.

  • Make sure brainstorming sessions do not result in the "lowest common denominator," but instead identify the best ideas.

  • Carve out time for your best and brightest to be creative. Let them pick the problems to solve.

7. Sharpen the saw—renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, effective lifestyle

Our take: A lot of IT leaders are now faced with containing costs by giving up training and development dollars, but you do not have to give up on "sharpening the saw" for yourself or your staff.

  • Find ways to encourage staff development outside of formal training. Promote the brain trust within your department as the best source of education.

  • Promote continuous learning: Leverage online courses, or encourage staff to participate in industry events.

  • Make room to have a life. IT leaders should take appropriate breaks from work to recharge. You may be surprised by how much your behavior influences your staff (e.g., when they see the CIO responding to emails at night, over weekends and on holidays, they figure this is what is expected of them).

  • Build your team by engaging with them as people who have jobs not as employees that are distracted by the rest of their lives.

New report: The 4 pillars every IT leader needs to adopt

IT leaders in health care today are under a magnifying glass. The good news is that investment in IT is up, but the bad news is that cost pressures are up even higher, and all eyes are on IT as the solution.

This briefing highlights four essential components of IT performance management: governance, strategy, delivering value, and communication.

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