Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Personality Resonance

My grooming preferences are standard fare:  I shave my head; my facial hair is typically in a crescent moon shape (half goatee); my clothes are business casual leaning toward the "I look like I make more money than I do" look; etc.  Occasionally, I'll change the shape of my facial hair, but the rest typically does not vary much.

"Where are you going with this," you ask.

Last week, I had a meeting with the Global PMO group of a large medical device company.  On the morning of the meeting I explicitly decided to not shave my head.  In fact, I hadn't shaved it in a week and there was already close to 1/8" of an inch of growth.

The questions that I am sure are burning in your minds are, "Why would I go against my normal preparation routine? And why are we still talking about grooming?"

Although I run the risk of stereotyping, I knew that the group of people I would be meeting with were conservative in their demeanor.  This is partially due to the fact that the company is a multi-national with its headquarters in Japan.  These roots permeated the entire corporation, so I knew the culture would be conservative in general.  Additionally, the average age of the staff member in this group was mid-40's and they are a highly analytical bunch, meaning that they were less inclined to favor a personal presentation style (read: more grooming) that was, relative to them, more aggressive.

In 2005 when I switched careers from an IT Geek (said most lovingly in case any of my readers currently fall into this category) to Sales, my manager took me under his wing.  Ken Wilson knew that I would have trouble not only communicating the value of my message but also getting the audience to be willing to receive it.  I've talked about the importance of good communication several times in this blog in the past, but I've never mentioned the concept of personality resonance.

The concept is simple:  the greater the number of personal characteristics that you can match up to the decision maker with whom you are communicating, the more effective you'll be in your communication regardless of how eloquent you are.  This is more than just matching speaking cadence and volume - it extends to manner of dress and other non-verbal mannerisms.

Why does this work?  The concept is simple.  By matching your style and mannerisms to that of the intended recipient, you are putting them at ease.  This is accomplished for two reasons:  firstly, they are comforted by a familiar way of interacting with you since it is the same way that they would respond if someone engaged them in a similar manner; secondly, by removing the unexpected you are significantly reducing the number of distractions they experience, which allows them to focus on the message and not the surroundings.

(Of course, I need to add that I do not have a background in psychology so the previous paragraph is simply my own observations, and it has no empirical data to back up its assertions.)

Returning to the original example, by being more conservative in my appearance (and subsequently in my demeanor during the meeting) I hoped to have them more engaged and willing to listen to what I had to say to them.  As a result, I now have a commitment from the executive that was present in the meeting to go beyond the tactical discussion we had and to venture into a longer, more strategic view of their IT division and how I can help them succeed in specific initiatives they had hoped to undertake.  In my book, that makes the meeting a success.

And the next morning I shaved my head.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The CIO - Technology-oriented Businessman or Business-oriented Technologist?

Recently, a question was asked:  should a CIO have a technology background?

This, of course, sparked an intense yet cordial and respectful debate on what type of CIO is the most effective.   Some argued that having a technology background was essential because - "duh!" - the CIO is managing technology.  Others argued that technology means nothing without it being surgically delivered to meet one or more business initiatives.  Therefore, they continued, the technology knowledge by itself isn't as useful as an in-depth understanding of how the business operates so that it can most effectively make use of technology to further its goals.

Let me ask this question of you:  does the paintbrush or the painter wielding the paintbrush actually paint a room?

I'm being disingenuous of course because the question belies my bias toward the latter, but I cannot deny that the second argument above resonates more greatly with me than the first.  I am reminded, in fact, of a discussion that I had recently on career movement with a very well respected professional acquaintance of mine, Ron Collier.  The discussion hinged on whether it made more sense to get a wide variety of experience in sales, marketing, R&D, etc. before venturing into management or not.

Ron's argument was that while this was a sensible approach, implementing it in reality would take far longer than was reasonably possible.  Instead, he countered, it made more sense to get into management first and hire people to work for you who were subject matter experts in the area you worked in (e.g. sales, marketing, R&D, etc.).  You'd learn from them the ins-and-outs of the business unit while continuing to build credibility as a manager who adds value to the business.

This hearkens to a statement I postulated in my previous series:

The purpose of each line of business is to design and implement a set of initiatives that do one thing:  make the company money.

Having said that, being a subject matter expert in anything that does not directly relate to making money isn't as useful as someone who is a subject matter expert in nothing but does know how to impact the business' ability to make money.  This brings us back to the initial question:  should a CIO be an expert in the business while knowing something about technology (and, arguably, more than his peers on the Executive Management Team)?  Or should a CIO be an expert in technology while knowing something about the business?

I think the answer is obvious.

A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with a CIO of a healthcare provider who was recently promoted into that position from his previous responsibility as the manager of the Infrastructure Operations group.  I came prepared to learn about his 12-18 month going forward strategy, only to find that he wanted to discuss specific features and functionality in two solutions that he was considering.

How would you have approached this meeting?  My personal opinion (and the way I executed) is to establish credibility in order to earn the right to speak later on higher level topics (read: IT strategy).  This meant addressing his questions even though I did not have the answers on hand by finding out the correct answers and conveying them to him in a timely fashion.  And although I haven't yet had the follow-up meeting with him, I certainly intend on helping him come to the conclusion (all by himself, of course) that developing a viable long term strategy will yield greater benefits to his division and him personally than any single solution could.

Do you agree or disagree?  Leave a comment to discuss.