Chief information officers can be at the forefront of driving holistic change across the corporation.

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As the world continues to transform post-pandemic, today’s CIOs have more responsibility than ever before. As a key member of the C-suite, they can drive digital integration and work directly with other leaders to implement meaningful change.

When it comes to organizational redesign, they must ensure they aren’t isolating themselves by only focusing on the design of the IT department; and instead, seeing to it that the entire business is empowered to benefit from cloud, platforms, data, and digital investments. Today’s CIO can take important steps to influence the discussion and encourage businesses to approach these changes holistically.

Putting Tension at the Forefront

Organizational tension is a natural byproduct of growth strategies, especially within the C-suite. These tensions are most acute in companies that are operating across geographic markets and that have a set of closely related but still unique business units. It is not enough to call for collaboration and shared accountability without first acknowledging the tension as legitimate.

Common tensions include:

  • Global vs. local: Conflict over what should be done together, and where autonomy and differentiation are necessary.

  • Legacy business vs. disruptive innovation: Past successful ways of work challenged by technology enabled internal or acquired start-ups.

  • Accountability vs. shared success: Desire to drive accountability and ownership, coupled with the need for leveraging collective effort.

Leadership teams win when they understand that their job is to solve these tensions. It is at the organization interfaces where value is created or lost -- and where the hard tradeoffs must be made.

The CIO can start by presenting these tensions and helping colleagues understand that they can create a competitive advantage, but only if the whole team embraces the work and is willing to put in the time and effort to implement these changes.

Align on Principles

Leaders often see the solutions to these tensions differently depending on where they sit within the business. Corporate staff see opportunities to leverage investments, effort, and talent to drive efficiency as well as to power better decision-making. General managers have often had bad experiences with past “centralization” efforts and are rightly fearful of ceding power to the center.

The key to moving past the centralization/decentralization debate is to start with a set of principles that foster alignment on both the broader operating model and relationship of the business portfolio, including:

  • Synergies: If a product, service, or platform can be used by more than one business unit, it will be stewarded by the enterprise.

  • Funding decisions: Shared product, service and platform costs will be managed transparently by the enterprise and charged to business units on a utilization and consumption basis.

  • External resources: An ‘internal first’ approach is recommended for sourcing, utilizing partners only when the business in question doesn’t have the capability or capacity.

Engage Peers in Working Through Real Scenarios

As a CIO, there may not always be an opportunity to engage directly with peers in discussions of organizational tensions and principles, but trust can be strengthened regardless through acknowledgement of everyone’s perspectives.

  • Identify the scenarios that will require hard trade-offs and work through them with peers.

  • Practice the conversations -- who are the right people to involve, what is the right data to consider and what is the criteria to achieve good, fast decision-making?

  • Employ joint decision-making to resolve impasses.

CIOs must be at the forefront of organizational changes, ensuring the emerging technologies they are implementing are providing value across the enterprise. By addressing the issues at hand, aligning on the results, and working through real scenarios, CIOs can drive meaningful, lasting change.

Amy Kates and Greg Kesler are Managing Directors at Accenture, and the co-authors of the recently published Networked, Scaled, and Agile.

About the Author(s)

Amy Kates

Managing Director, Accenture

Amy Kates is co-founder of Kates Kesler Organization Consulting, a boutique organization design firm acquired by Accenture in 2020. A thought leader and seasoned practitioner, Amy serves as a trusted advisor to business leaders in successful companies around the world, working with them to assess organizational issues, reshape structures and processes, and build depth of management capability. In addition to her consulting work, Amy teaches organization design in the Executive MBA program at the DTU School of Business in Denmark and through Cornell University. She is a Resource Partner to the Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business at USC and is a member of the i4cp Thought Leadership Consortium. She has also co-authored numerous books on organization design, including the latest, Networked, Scaled, and Agile, published by Kogan Page in 2021.

Greg Kesler

Managing Director, Accenture

Greg Kesler is co-founder of Kates Kesler Organization Consulting, a boutique organization design firm acquired by Accenture in 2020. Greg consults with CEOs and other senior leaders on global organization design and activation. He has led whole company, global redesign projects for many leading multi-national companies in the consumer products, industrial, and life sciences sectors, and has developed and implemented succession-planning and executive assessment practices at numerous major companies. Together with Amy Kates, he is co-author of several books, including Network, Scaled, and Agile (Kogan Page, 2021), Bridging Organization Design and Performance (John Wiley, 2016), and Leading Organization Design (Jossey-Bass, 2011), in addition to dozens of articles and book chapters he has penned.

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