It’s easy to think of people in binaries—left brain vs. right brain, introvert vs. extrovert, analytical vs. creative, quantitative vs. qualitative. Because CIOs, are typically promoted from within and grow from the ground up as programmers or technical employees, they typically fall in the left-brain/quantitative category.

However, today’s business world requires enterprise technology solutions that are built and deployed with empathy in mind—a trait that doesn’t come easy to many left-brain CIOs.

If you want to make your mark on your company’s top line, you have to grow your emotional intelligence and start blurring the binaries that are so often used to define the CIO position.

CIOs Can Learn a Lesson from Design Teams

Your company’s designers are trained to be empathetic. They can understand the business from a high level and from a granular perspective to determine a product’s why; they can analyze customer experience data to design a user experience that meets market demands; they can, in short, design products for business outcomes.

By tying what users need to do to with what they like to do, designers can blur physical and technological boundaries to connect users and products. This level of empathy—the ability to put yourself in a customer’s shoes and feel what they feel about technology—is what differentiates today’s tech products, whether they be for employees or customers.

Your challenge as a CIO is that you’re two or three steps removed from the customer. If you typically deal with the IT systems within finance and operations, you aren’t doing anything to differentiate the business as a whole. That’s why the closer you can get to customer deliver, sales and marketing the better you’ll be at creating technology with empathy in mind.  These are the places the business touches your end customer.

When changing your perspective on enterprise technology solutions, here are a few things to consider from a design-thinking perspective:

  •      How do customers and end users interact with your products/services?
  •      Is their experience delightful? If so, what aspect of the product/service delights them?
  •      Do you have a minimum loveable product or just a minimum viable product?
  •      Is your focus narrow enough that you can empathize with specific needs iteratively?

Thinking this way about the business will set you on the right path to being an empathetic CIO. But what is the real benefit of having empathy as a CIO?

Free eBook: Making Your Mark on the Top Line: A CIO's Primer

What Being Empathetic Means for a CIO’s Success

One of the main challenges for a CIO is that every problem that comes in as with the same level of urgency and priority - each problem is hot to the person that has it. If you have 10 projects in your queue and only 3 of them can fit into your budget, how do you prioritize which are most important to the business?

Being an empathetic CIO means building better bonds with your business counterparts, understanding customer needs both internally and externally, and gathering the information necessary to prioritize projects. When you can properly prioritize projects, you can make decisions confidently and make an impact on the top line.

However, the IT department is typically dehumanized by a ticket system that frustrates employees, making it difficult to actually create the necessary partnerships with sales and marketing. Although making your IT department more human is difficult, it’s not impossible.

As a CIO, you should be working the front line help desk at least once per month. Pick up the phones, talk to customers, hear what they have to say about your business technology, and take that information to make empathetic changes that resonate with users.

This isn’t just about implementing a new ticket system—it’s about redefining the structures and processes around your tools to create better connections beyond finance and operations. Tim Campos, current CIO at Facebook, has implemented multiple empathetic initiatives through redefined structures. For example, in 2011, Campos installed vending machines throughout Facebook’s campus. These vending machines replaced frustrating IT processes for employees to get new computer supplies such as keyboards, mice, power cords, and more.

Being an empathetic CIO like Tim Campos means tapping into the problems of those around you and finding ways to use technology to solve those issues in user-friendly ways. Rather than growing frustrated with the CMO that goes around IT to implement a new SaaS solution, build a relationship with him/her to better understand the technology needs of the marketing department. If you’re a more human figure in the organization, the CMO will come to you to discuss problems with existing technology and you can help implement a solution that meets IT requirements while also driving the success of the marketing department.

The key to being an empathetic CIO is focusing on bigger picture problems than you might be used to—becoming a technological leader that can translate customer needs into innovative solutions that drive revenue or improve customer retention.

From Finance/Operations Cost Center to Revenue Generator with Empathy

If you can become empathetic to the business instead of focusing on non-differentiating IT systems exclusively, you can find areas of the business that are broken and apply technology to start differentiating the company from its competition.

However, empathy is more like a lighthouse than a map. It won’t always tell you where exactly to steer the ship, but it can tell you the general direction to head. As a CIO, it’s your job to fill in the gaps and build market differentiating innovation. Whether you’re an airline that decides to build an IoT-enabled baggage-check system or a CPG company creating smart soft-drink coolers that ensure the machine is always stocked, expanding your emotional intelligence will help you make definite top-line impact.

Finding a way to bridge the gap between the typically analytical CIO and the intangibles-focused CMO through empathy is just one role of the new-age CIO. Staying relevant in today’s business world requires a new way of thinking about IT leadership.

If you want to learn more about how to stay relevant as a CIO, download our free ebook, Making Your Mark on the Top Line: A CIO’s Primer.

Free eBook: Making Your Mark on the Top Line: A CIO's Primer

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