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Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2015: Strategic Thinking for CIOs

A Practical Approach to Thinking Big

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By: Roger Hughlett

October 5, 2015

Strategic thinking plays a vital part of whether or not a Chief Information Officer is a success or failure in today’s fast-paced world of Digital Government and Digital Business.

Tina Nunno, Vice President and Fellow at Gartner Research, shared some key methods to help CIOs (or really any IT professional who is tasked with leading a project or a department) improve how they and their organizations work. In her presentation at Gartner Symposium/ITxpo titled “A Practical Approach to Strategic Thinking for CIOs,” Nunno drove home the fact that CIOs need to think big and think strategically.

“Strategic thinking is the process of surfacing and resolving our real leadership goals, then using strategic questions to help the enterprise think together, and achieve those goals,” Nunno told the audience.

Leaders Need Strategic Thinking

Tina Nunno, VP and Fellow at Gartner Research

Tina Nunno, VP and Fellow at Gartner Research

When you think strategically, you are in a better position to lead. The fact is that strategic thinking almost always helps you meet and overcome critical leadership challenges. Strategic thinking:

  • Allows you to gain trust from senior executives,
  • Fosters collaboration among peers, and
  • Improves delegation to direct reports.

As Nunno says, “If there is no one behind you, if you are not being followed, you are not a leader.”

Start With Yourself

Strategic thinking begins with understanding your personal mental models for leadership. Nunno says these mental models represent how we think about the world, our target goals, and how we think we should achieve them. The questions we ask reveal the difference between our perceived and real targets.

Nunno shared this process to help clarify your target goals and focus yourself and those around you.

  • Surface you leadership mental models – the perceived models as well as the real models.
  • Resolve the perceived and real mental models – validate the models or modify them if they need to be changed.
  • Line up simple questions to help everyone focus on the strategic targets – these need to be asked daily and shared with the group.

These simple questions are very direct and are inquiries we should be asking frequently if we are working toward success for ourselves and our organizations. Ask yourself and your team:

  • How will this help us grow revenue?
  • How much revenue can we forecast?
  • How much money will this help us save?
  • Is it hard or soft savings?
  • When will we get the revenue on the savings?

Another great list of questions to ask:

  • Is this consistent with our strategic goals?
  • What is the business value of doing this?
  • What is the risk of doing this?
  • What is the risk of not doing this?
  • What is the cost breakdown?
  • When will we achieve return on investment?
  • Who is impacted by doing this?
  • Can we get stakeholder buy-in at this time?
  • What are the system dependencies?
  • What do we not know that we need to find out?

By asking these questions all the time, most strategic decisions will be easy to make. In fact, with stakeholders all driving toward a shared goal, many of these decisions will be intuitive to the organization as a whole.

A Daily Discipline

According to Nunno, strategic thinking is a daily discipline that helps groups think together and stay on the course without getting lost.

First we verify our target destination and then we ask simple questions along the way to help us stay the course. By asking questions and thinking strategically each and every day, CIOs and other IT professionals are able to make the right decisions faster and with more clarify.

Nunno left the audience with the following recommendations (in the form of questions, of course) that you can ask yourself as you move forward as a leader.

  • Which mental model is most important for you to surface, resolve and communicate to the executive team to foster trust?
  • Which one question would most help your team think together and collaborate?
  • Which one question in this session would most help you delegate and help your team lead themselves?
  • Will you help your enterprise think together, by asking at least one new question, rather than telling?

Tools for Providing Clear Direction

In essence, strategic thinking provides mental models, frameworks and tools that can help when an organization’s direction is unclear or not known to all the stakeholders. It can also help you better focus, execute and adapt in times of great change and uncertainty.

And we all know that most CIOs – whether in private sector or in local, state and federal governments – these are certainly uncertain times when it comes to IT investments. By asking the right questions CIOs will earn the trust from the top of an organization and command the support from the entire organization.

About the Author

Roger Hughlett was a member of the Marketing Team with MicroPact from 2013 - 2015.