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Successful CIOs Work Hard, But Know How To Delegate

Past Elite 8 honorees discuss how they continue to produce results and remain successful, while building great teams and overcoming budget and time management hurdles.

This Issue's Experts
CIGNA (Philadelphia)
Elite 8 1999
New York Life (New York)
Elite 8 1999
USAA Information Technology Co.
(San Antonio)
Elite 8 2001

I&T: CIOs are in a high-pressure, visible position. What is the most stressful part of your job?

A: Andrea Anania, CIGNA: Without a doubt, it is producing results for the business. One way to do that involves developing an enterprise-wide IT solution that spans the entire business, so that once you create something, it can be used again. That is very challenging. But if you can do it, there is a huge advantage to sharing something across the organization.

One of the techniques that we have employed is to create practices that operate as utilities that span the business. If you build something that is similar three times, in three different areas of the company, it costs 3x. I you build something once, and use it three times, the costs are not nearly as high.

One example is our external portal, It is an integrated view for all of the products. A couple of years ago, you would have found that each division had its own site, nothing was connected and there was duplication.

A: Judy Campbell, New York Life: It is managing the proper investment level and balancing the investments that are necessary for the business. For instance, for security, recovery or protecting from blackouts, you always ask, "Do we have a right level of investment?"

The defense of the recommendations comes from us. There are committees that approve the funding, but I say to my folks first if the funding is enough or too much.

A: Stephen E. Yates, USAA Information Technology Co.: A lot of the stress we have is brought on by ourselves. Our company provides financial services products for the military community and our employees work very hard to make sure they're providing the best possible service to them. We're producing products and services that our internal customers need to provide this very important service. If we weren't doing such a good job, it wouldn't be as stressful because they would probably look to an outside IT organization. I'd much rather have the stress of having my customers demand my people, products, and services, than have to deal with the stress of trying to generate more business, because my customers have found other solutions to their problems. By far the most stressful part of my job is the unrelenting demand on my time. My calendar is 80 percent booked two months in advance.

Finding the time to be creative, to manage vendor relationships, learn something new, etc., is something I have to work very hard to achieve. I'm in the office at least 11 hours a day. I spend one to two hours per night corresponding by e-mail or working with papers I've carried home. The stress comes from not being able to spend the time I feel is necessary to do a good job on the personal contact with my employees and my customers/users, and especially my family. That said, I still love every aspect about my job.

I&T: How do you manage the decision-making process, and assure that when something is delegated, it will be done correctly?

A: Anania, CIGNA: When you get to any level of management, certainly way lower than the CIO, you need to learn to delegate. At CIGNA, we work with the first-level managers on delegation. At the end of the day, it is making sure you have a strategy that is understood around the organization, and you need to make sure that you can produce opportunities for people to grow. Leaders need to be there to provide the assistance along the way.

A: Campbell, New York Life: The first thing is to make sure the team is strong. The choice is who you delegate to, but the delegation is easier because you have a level of confidence in the players that you have on your team, so you can be sure they will make the right decisions. But it is also important to hold frequent project meetings, so the managers can show off what is going on with their projects and so people can raise the right issues. It keeps me on the edge of the detail, without having to manage the projects.

We have a CIO dashboard, and that is something that I look at religiously. I get it very detailed once a month and I can also get it on the desktop.

A: Yates, USAA: Delegation to my staff is something that works well, because I have great people working for me. They are really good on closure. I have made that a key element of promotional success in our group. When delegated tasks are not done as I would have liked, I make the time to explain what I think went wrong. We all need to understand what the boss expects.

I&T: IT is usually left in the shadows when things go well. When you hit an IT home run, how do you make sure that the people that swung the bat (the IT staff) get the credit they deserve?

A: Anania, CIGNA: This is so true. When things go poorly IT gets blamed. When it goes right, the business people take the glory. It is a real issue for all organizations. If you do not do the right things, you are not going to motivate people. I spend a lot of time on this. We have a lot of rewards and programs. We have town hall meetings, and we recognize when people do things to reach the corporate goals. When the line-of-business units get recognition, they recognize the IT people, as well. It doesn't take a lot of money, or time, but it offers amazing results. For instance, McKinsey looked at our infrastructure and said that our help desk is the best that they have ever seen. We went to the help desk and recognized the employees. We are always looking for any opportunity to celebrate the successes.

A: Campbell, New York Life: One of the things that I found very important when I came to the IT group from the business group is that there wasn't a lot of understanding about what the IT side was going through. We invite the business folks to come and speak to the IT groups to talk about the business. Then we invite IT people to talk at these meetings, and that allows the business leaders to see how many of the IT people were involved in certain projects. We also have a technology fair that demonstrates what the major project teams are doing, and we invite the business customers to it. It has been a great success.

A: Yates, USAA: I remind my team that we are not good about making our results known. This is an industry problem. It comes from the fact that we are pressing like mad to get the current project out the door while 10 other projects are in the works. There simply isn't time or energy to promote our successes, so we press on in silence. This behavior doesn't serve us well in the long run. The users can't appreciate what they don't understand. We must slow down occasionally and make it very clear what has been done and what results have come from it.

For example, we are making plans for 2004. It looks very much like we will produce a fifth consecutive year of declining IT expenses in spite of massive production growth, rapidly increasing systems development results, and infrastructure modernization. We think that is a rather unique accomplishment. I am preparing to explain the significance of that accomplishment to my peers.

I&T: Studies show CIO tenure is relatively short. How have you managed to last in your position?

A: Anania, CIGNA: I think it is because I am focused on aligning IT with business goals. If you do, you earn the respect of the business people, and they view you as a business partner, not a technologist. It also doesn't hurt to have a consistent track record of providing good results.

Part of providing good results, especially in the IT organization, where employees are not directly facing the customer, is making sure everyone knows how their role helps CIGNA and, ultimately, involves the customer. For instance, someone in the data center spends the day trouble-shooting problems. It is just as important for that person to understand how they impact the business as it is for the people in sales.

A: Campbell, New York Life: I am the longest-surviving CIO ever at New York Life. I have put together an incredible team that is capable and very diverse. We have been able to pull together to get a lot of things done. I am also a member of the executive committee, so I stay involved in goals and results. Keeping the relationships with the management committee is very important.

A: Yates, USAA: Probably the main reason is my team has been able to change the tide on expenses and still deliver the products and services the company needs to provide world-class service to our members. Senior management tends to like that sort of thing. I have a good grasp of the business and how to manage a successful IT operation. These elements give me longevity. Without this, CIOs are short-timers.

I&T: How would you describe your management style, and how has that helped you in your role?

A: Anania, CIGNA: I focus on two things: strategy and people development. That means having a clear strategy so there is a clear vision. Having a vision that your organization understands is very important. When I talk about developing people, I give them a lot of latitude. I am not a micromanager, but I have a high standard of performance. I am very inclusive and I encourage a diversity of workforce and opinion, and that creates a stronger product at the end of the day. I can't stress the importance of people development. That is missing in many IT organizations.

A: Campbell, New York Life: I have been managing a long time. I have managed in a bunch of different businesses and everyone brings something to the table that is very important. You have to manage the players so they can bring something important and make sure they are in the right place to do their best. People know where they stand with me. I tend to be kind, but forthright.

A: Yates, USAA: My style is one of preaching results first. Our users have us here for one reason: to make them more successful than an outside IT service or doing things manually. I try to be sure all managers know how an IT group should be structured for success, how to manage products and profit, how to build systems, and how to measure your results so you know where you stand. I deal with making sure we continue to move the infrastructure forward so IT is never behind the business needs. If I wasn't comfortable delegating so much to my team, I'd be out of this job.

Greg MacSweeney is editorial director of InformationWeek Financial Services, whose brands include Wall Street & Technology, Bank Systems & Technology, Advanced Trading, and Insurance & Technology. View Full Bio

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