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Three CIO communication tips that will change the way you lead

Three communication tips, four characteristics of quantum computing, and the unhappiness of IT architects: The Data Mill reports from Gartner Catalyst.

If CIOs want to become better leaders, they need to learn how to be great communicators. Mark Jeffries, a stockbroker turned communications expert who has interviewed the likes of tennis legend Serena Williams, business mogul Sir Richard Branson and Zappos' CEO Tony Hsieh, had some advice for upping your communications game at the recent Gartner Catalyst conference.

"Everyone can grow their ability to communicate, to influence the way other people think," Jeffries said. Here are three communication tips -- what he calls "communication assumptions" -- to keep in mind when relaying information to your staff and business peers.

Communication tip #1: Be a salesperson. CIOs and senior IT leaders aren't described as salespeople on their business cards, but they are in the sales business, and the product they're selling is themselves, Jeffries said. To wit: "If any of you are being paid right now to do your job, you sold your brilliance, your time, your expertise. The buyer just happens to be whoever employs you today," Jeffries said. The salesmanship doesn't stop at a job offer; it continues post-hire with bosses, colleagues and clients, all of whom will continue to judge and evaluate what's being offered, Jeffries said.

Communication tip #2: Pay attention to the "finely balanced scales." "For every piece of communication you start with someone else, think of a finely balanced set of scales," Jeffries said. According to Jeffries, when things go right, the scales tip just slightly in the communicator's favor -- from 50 to 50.1%. When things go wrong, the reverse happens. It may not seem like much, but, Jeffries said, it can make all the difference. As an example, Jeffries described how a law firm brought in a $500,000 contract by talking about baseball in its presentation, setting itself apart from competing firms and building a serendipitous connection with the client CEO, who happened to like baseball. "That's half a million dollars based on what? On a moment of likability? On a moment of what I call an NBB -- a non-business bond? That is the moment where the scales tip just a bit," Jeffries said. "It didn't need to be a lot."

Mark Jeffries, a communications expert, speaking at a recent Gartner Catalyst conference on how improving communications skills can help to influence others.

Communication tip #3: Take advantage of the rule of payback. "When someone goes above and beyond your expectations, whether it's in the social world, or perhaps it's in business, you have this very human, emotional need to pay them back," Jeffries said.  The rule of payback is frequently practiced outside of the office all of the time -- when leaving a tip after an incredible meal or with the wave of a hand when merging with traffic. But it can be useful at the office as well. "When you need two new members for your team and you go to that CFO, and you've been going over and above the entire year, it's just possible that reciprocation moment will happen," he said.

Quirks of quantum mechanics

"This really is the dawn of quantum computing," said Vern Brownell, the CEO at D-Wave Systems Inc., a quantum computing company, in Burnaby, British Columbia. He was a presenter for the "radical thinking" track at Catalyst, where he gave a layman's introduction to the topic. "At the most fundamental level, quantum computing leverages directly the laws of quantum mechanics to do computation," Brownell said.  

The "laws of quantum mechanics" are counterintuitive, according to experts, making them seem almost other-worldly. With help from this six-minute video by Google, Brownell introduced -- in very basic terms -- four characteristics of quantum mechanics:

  1. Superposition: Objects can be in different states at once -- as in the case of Shrodinger's cat.
  2. Entanglement: Particles that are quantumly entangled remain connected no matter how far apart they are.
  3. Multiverse: Think parallel universe. This definition from whatis.com explains it succinctly: "As soon as a potential exists for any object to be in any state, the universe of that object transmutes into a series of parallel universes equal to the number of possible states in which that object can exist."
  4. Tunneling: When particles appear to travel through a barrier and reach the other side.

Your architects are probably unhappy

Do IT practitioners and CIOs see eye to eye? That depends on the topic and the practitioner. According to a recent Gartner survey, when it comes to recognizing the value of IT and performance metrics, the answer is yes. But when it comes to organizational effectiveness, stakeholder satisfaction and job satisfaction, the answer is no, with IT architects expressing the most dissatisfaction.

  • On operational effectiveness: "Anyone who defined themselves as 'architect' within the organization consistently came out more negative on the question of organizational effectiveness," said Jack Santos, a Gartner analyst who presented survey results at Catalyst. Santos described the finding as an "alarm bell" since IT architects design, present and roll out technology to the business, even "selling the organization on what technology can do to improve business," he said.
  • On stakeholder satisfaction: Architects, again, responded more negatively than IT leaders and IT practitioners in general on this metric. Santos broke the results down this way: 13% of IT leaders believe their customers are satisfied compared to 4% of IT professionals -- and just 1% of IT architects. At the other end, just 8% of IT leaders believe stakeholders are somewhat dissatisfied with IT compared to 17% of IT professionals -- and 35% of IT architects.
  • On job satisfaction: IT architects responded more negatively than IT leaders, but were on par with IT practitioners on job satisfaction. Half of CIOs and senior IT leaders (50%) responded that they are satisfied to completely satisfied with their job compared to 34% of IT professionals, including IT architects, Santos said.

Say what?!?

"Digital business will not succeed without IT worker support. All of us in the room have to be on board. A lot of firms will fail if they don't have the whole IT shop behind them." -- Jack Santos, analyst, Gartner

"Your network is not who you know, it's who knows you, knows what you do, and knows how good you are at doing it. That is the definition of your network, and that's hugely important. Your network is not just your personal brand; it's your unofficial sales team." -- Mark Jeffries, author and speaker

"Everyone talks about big data failures, but no one tells you how. What if it's not 'fail fast,' but fail slow -- and painfully." -- Svetlana Sicular, analyst, Gartner

"In 2017, we'll deliver the first Quantum as a Service capability." -- Vern Brownell, CEO, D-Wave Systems

"If necessity is the mother of invention, maybe laziness is the mother of innovation." -- Danny Brian, analyst, Gartner

Welcome to The Data Mill, a weekly column devoted to all things data. Heard something newsy (or gossipy)? Email me or find me on Twitter at @TT_Nicole.

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Last time on The Data Mill: Will the role of the chief data officer eclipse that of the CIO?

This was last published in August 2015

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Effective communication: What's your No. 1 rule?
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Clarity is first and foremost in my mind. If you're vague in your explanations or requests, whether purposely or not, you're not going to build the trust and credibility that will help you get what you want. 
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I’ll go with using the right medium, as I think it goes hand in hand with clarity. Much of our language can be ambiguous or overloaded and a great deal of our communication is through means other than language, that using the right medium is imperative for effective communication. Face to face really can’t be beat in most cases, but think carefully about which medium you choose, and how your message will be received or misunderstood in that medium.
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...and to that point, what medium your audience wants to consume your message on. If the people you're trying to reach prefer phone calls, and you're emailing, you may not get the response you're looking for. 
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