Marks and Mentor

ON your Marks, get set, go!

No, we are not reliving the wonderful Olympics here, although if you think you can edge out Usain Bolt’s 100m world record time then by all means get to work! Rather, we are learning a thing or two from Andrew Marks about how to be a business focused IT leader. Naked Leader has been partnering Andrew, Chief Information Officer of FTSE 100 listed Tullow Oil, for several years.

Andrew knows what it takes for an IT leader to reach the top of the podium in business – albeit with profit as the prize, not a gold medal!

Such as, understanding what is core to driving business growth, testing new strategies to see whether they make, or save money, and looking at staff to assess what skills they need to deliver – today.

‘Start with the CEO’s number one concern,’ Andrew begins. ‘Show me the money!’

‘What is core to driving and sustaining business growth? As an IT Leader you have to know this; and validate what you think it is.’

‘Then, build a vision and approach to Information Systems (IS) delivery that centres around those value drivers – in words everyone will understand within IS and outside.’

Andrew then asks you to delve deeper. ‘Identify strategic principles that IS projects and operations can be tied to that also enable the organisation’s value drivers,’ he continues. ‘These should have legs – be relevant as the organisation changes and IS delivers over time.’

‘Test each new idea against the above. Does it make money or save money? Is it aligned to the vision and does it match the approach? Which of the strategic principles does it support? Exceptions are allowed -although they had better be good!’

‘Finally, look at your staff. What skills (capacity, capability and choice) do you need in order to deliver what is required, right now.’

Andrew urges IT Leaders to look ahead, to the gap between the next one and two years, to ascertain what it will take to grow the team as you need, listening to and sharing with your staff what it will take.

‘Show them what opportunities there are,’ he enthuses. ‘Then give them the invitation to step up while setting honest expectations.’

‘Then, be willing to adapt whilst keeping your principles unchanged. Be alert to changes around you. Don’t be the frog in the saucepan, ignoring the incremental changes going around you time after time until it is too late. Continuously validate that what you are doing is aligned to what the organisation requires.’

A key to success in Andrew’s view is focusing on the priority projects. He maintains this is where your management skills must come to the fore, where you need to take the lead. In particular, when the answer coming back from your sponsor as to what is important is a single, unhelpful word – everything. This ambiguous word won’t do for Andrew. ‘Look at what you do know, then look carefully for the root cause (or shortest route to value) of why you do what you do,’ he insists. ‘Make this your number one priority and let other activities become secondary. ‘Review and repeat until you have your top five and top 10. Then validate the list with your sponsor.’

Gathering feedback from the annual IT Performance Review is something to be excited about in Andrew’s view. For instance, what has changed, what didn’t and why?

He adds: ‘Be open to review, embrace your Internal Audit team, for example, and use them to assess governance, relevance and overall quality. Use them to spot gaps and to confirm that what you are doing is appropriate.’

And just as the Naked Leader champions the importance of communication, Andrew agrees.

‘You can never over-communicate as long as you communicate clearly, to a high quality and on relevant subjects,’ he concludes. ‘Make communication a full-time task. Take as long as it takes to get the communication right. This goes for every message whether “News from the CIO”, a “Planned Outage Message” or a new application “User Guide”. And of course, when things do go wrong, take the same approach for that “Unplanned Outage” message. When you are ready, pause, review again and then publish.’

Now it is your turn…on your Marks…!

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